GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new immigration law in Arizona is cause for concern for a variety of reasons, said Gainesville attorney and UF Law alumni Evan George and UF Law professor Pedro Malavet in a panel discussion on Wednesday, June 16. The forum was presented by the UF Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations.
The new law, also referred to as SB 1070, expands Arizona’s power over immigration laws and tightens immigration regulation and enforcement. The law’s intent is supposed to be to reduce crime and prevent illegal immigrants from entering, residing in or working in the state.
George began the discussion by outlining and explaining the law and some of the reasons for concern over it.
“What’s really happening here is they’re aiming to make life so intolerable for anyone who isn’t in status – they might even be in status but don’t have clear evidence of status – that it would be better to leave than to deal with the risk of arrest, or risk of harassment and discrimination that comes along with the provisions in this law,” he said.
When he first heard about the law, he thought it sounded like “no big deal,” George said, because as an immigration attorney he deals with these types of discrimination issues on a daily basis in Florida and Alachua County. But after taking a closer look at the Arizona law, it became apparent that it is more disconcerting than he originally thought, he said.
The provisions of the law empower – and require – state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws more rigorously than before; and require non-citizens to have proper documentation of their status in public and private settings, George said. Provisions also address the “unlawful stopping and solicitation of work,” directed at anyone who impedes flow of traffic while picking up a day laborer; and the unlawful transportation of an undocumented individual.
George also looked at the law’s goal of reducing crime.
“One of the real issues here is the public perception about immigration; it’s almost accepted in a lot of areas that immigrants bring crime,” he said.
But despite what the perception might be, property and violent crimes have dropped in recent years in Arizona; there is no association between higher crime rates and unauthorized immigration; and crime is actually lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates.
Next, Malavet addressed the law and its implications from a standpoint of culture and race.
“Laws like this reflect a level of anti-Hispanic, anti-Latina/Latino sentiment that will have a most pernicious effect on citizens,” he said.
Malavet, who was born in Puerto Rico, expressed concerns about racial profiling that will occur because of the law, based his own personal experiences and the experiences of other Latino and Latina citizens.
“Can any of you right now, right here prove that you’re a citizen of the United States?” he asked. “And the other question is ‘why would you be asked to prove that you’re a citizen of the United States by a law enforcement officer?'”
Latinos and Latinas are often categorized or thought of as one race in the United States, even though they are a multi-racial ethnic group, but this leads to racism based on the outward appearance of being foreign, Malavet said.
“I think that one of the reasons why we see laws like SB 1070 is not really concern over immigration, legal or otherwise. I think it is about us; it is about Latina and Latino citizens and it is about the fact that we are going to be the largest identifiable group within the United States in the coming century.”
The Latino and Latina population is estimated to have increased by over one-third between 2000 and 2009, he said.
Latinos and Latinas have always been viewed in the United States as racially inferior, Malavet said. Perceptions and stereotypes of Latinos and Latinas have even shifted during the history of the U.S. to uphold this viewpoint.
“We have been citizens of this country since before it was this country,” Malavet said, “and if you think about it, the two largest Hispanic groups in the United States are Mexican=American and Puerto Ricans; not one of us came to the United States at the time our territories were first conquered by this country, the United States came to us.”
“Everybody who values citizenship in this country needs to understand that we are the most successful multi-cultural democracy in the history of the planet, and we will continue to be only when we value that diversity and fight the racism that SB 1070 reflects,” he said.
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