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Arizona's Real Immigration Question: Not 'Papers Please' but 'Which Side Are You On?'

Jeff Biggers

Arizona governor Jan Brewer outside the supreme court earlier this year. (Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters)

In the shadows of the Democratic Party's applause for President Bill Clinton last night, whose Operation Gatekeeper policy in the mid-1990s drew widespread condemnation by human rights groups, federal court Judge Susan Bolton denied a motion on racial profiling objections and allowed Arizona's infamous "papers, please" SB 1070 2b provision to stand yesterday.

While Gov. Jan Brewer and some observers may see this as cementing "papers, please" as Arizona's new state motto, the real question for civil rights advocates is over compliance and inevitable law suits.

"This ruling will only expand the human rights crisis in Arizona," said Carlos Garcia, with the Phoenix-based Puente organization. "It is now in other peoples' hands whether they will comply with a racist law. We pose the question to every institution, every school, university, city, and police department in the state: will you comply with 1070 and racial profiling, or will you stand on the side of civil and human rights?"

Within 10 days, according to the ACLU, the state's immigration provision may go into effect, requiring law enforcement agencies to determine the immigration status during any "lawful contact," where "reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully in the United States."

According to most legal experts, the definition of "reasonable suspicion" presents a minefield of racial profiling concerns and conflicts; and a "state of confusion" for myriad local law agencies across Arizona.

A couple years back, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio openly told broadcaster Glenn Beck his definition, when "some people who have an erratic, scared... whatever... if they have their speech, what they look like, if they look like they come from another country, we can take care of that situation."

"With 1070, the police can no longer protect and serve our communities, but only racially profile us," said Garcia. "We already live 1070 every day under Sheriff Arpaio: the Department of Justice has named him as perpetrating the 'worst case of racial profiling' they have ever seen."

"Any implementation of Section 2(B) will inevitably subject people in Arizona to widespread racial profiling and undermine the safety of Arizona's neighborhoods by hindering local law enforcement," said Victor Viramontes, MALDEF National Senior Counsel, in a released statement yesterday. "We will take every action to minimize these harms to the people of Arizona that are the result of this deeply flawed law."

"The ruling puts an enormous burden on the countless Arizona residents who will be victims of racial profiling and illegal detentions because of this law," said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. We remain committed to fighting what is left of SB 1070 and defending the rights of all Arizonans to be free from this unjust law."

In a statement yesterday, Gov. Brewer called the court ruling Arizona "one big step closer to implementing the core provision of SB 1070."

The question remains whether that big step will be toward compliance, resistance or another court challenge.

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