01 March 2011

Arizona: Anti-Immigrant Legislation Gets Worse

While Republican statehouses in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio are trying to push through sweeping anti-worker legislation, the virulent anti-immigrant bills just keep coming: in a move that could leave millions of women immigrants and their children more vulnerable than ever, the State of Arizona is now proposing a slew of new measures that could, according to the New York Times, make last year's discriminatory SB 1070 "look mild" in comparison.

Aiming to create an environment in Arizona where "life [is] so difficult for illegal immigrants that they stop coming, or leave," these new bills would seek to prohibit undocumented immigrants from driving, receiving public benefits, and enrolling in school. Children born in Arizona to undocumented parents would receive a special, "second class" of birth certificate -- which would note that Arizona does not consider them true citizens of the state. In practice, the Times notes, these measures would,
...compel school officials to ask for proof of citizenship for students and require hospitals to similarly ask for papers for those receiving non-emergency care. Illegal immigrants would be blocked from obtaining any state licenses, including those for marriage. Landlords would be forced to evict the entire family from public housing if one illegal immigrant were found living in a unit. Illegal immigrants found driving would face 30 days in jail and forfeit the vehicle to the state.
There is no doubt that, if passed, these various pieces of covertly racist legislation would create a virtual prison for immigrants in the state, leaving them isolated, vulnerable and dangerously barred from public resources and public life. And those most likely to bear the burden of these drastic new measures are, indisputably, the women and children who together make up a majority of the US immigrant population.

“If this kind of legislation actually goes through it’s clearly extremely punitive, especially for immigrant women," says Catherine Tactaquin, director and co-founder of Ms. Foundation grantee the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "The roles that women play in the families and communities, often as care-givers – the people who might walk the child to school, who might be bringing someone to the hospital for emergency care – this legislation is going to have a direct impact on the very functioning of that person within a family unit, within the community. I think the legislation is very aware of the kinds of roles women do play in the community -- and I think it’s targeted.”

As we've noted before, women form the very backbone of the immigrant community in the United States. They head the majority of immigrant households, care for the elderly and children, and provide communities with vital connections to schools, hospitals and social services. When immigrants are further criminalized by laws such as those now being proposed in Arizona, women, families and entire communities suffer. When women are categorically denied health care, they become sick and unable to care for their loved ones -- with consequences far beyond their own families (think public health). When women are squeezed out of the workforce because it is illegal for them to drive, but then have no recourse to public benefits, poverty rises. And when children are denied the basic right to a public education, whole communities are put at risk.

The denial of so many basic human rights to our immigrant population will indeed produce a punishing effect -- though it may not be precisely what Conservatives have in mind (that is, flight).  Instead, these measures simply make inevitable the slide of immigrant communities into ever greater isolation, poverty and violence -- particularly violence against women and girls, who are made more vulnerable when fear of deportation pushes them deeper into the shadows. And poverty and violence, the anti-immigrant forces should note, are historically very hard to contain: eventually, all of Arizona -- and all of America -- will pay a price for sanctioning the dehumanization of our immigrant communities.

The high costs these measures would entail in Arizona-- in terms both human and economic -- have been enough to convince numerous organizations to stand up and oppose the legislation. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce has spoken out against passage, noting that such draconian measures will only further harm local businesses, whose revenues have dipped thanks to boycotts of the state around SB 1070. And Democratic politicians in the state have raised serious questions about why Republicans -- lead by State Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070 -- are focusing on legislation like this now, when jobs and the economy should be the real priority.

It's a sentiment echoed by those working on the ground to push back against the measures. “This legislature is going to guarantee that Arizona goes down in flames by ensuring that the public focuses on the immigration issue, rather than focusing on the economy," says Isabel Garcia of Ms. Foundation grantee Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. "They’re diverting attention away from the role corporations have played in undermining the economy, and instead they’re scapegoating immigrants.”

Garcia also notes the similarities between the stigma being placed on immigrants in Arizona and the treatment of Blacks after the Civil War. "They’re trying to isolate people just as they did after slavery," she points out. "They trying to figure out, "How can we control these people? How can we isolate them?" In the case of Blacks, Jim Crow was the answer; today in Arizona, you don't have to squint too hard to see that something breathtakingly similar is taking place.

And it's taking place largely on the backs of women. “When we look at the attacks on the 14th Amendment in particular," Tactaquin of NNIRR points out, "the poster child for that fight nationally – and especially in Arizona -- is the Latina woman. Proponents of dissolving birthright citizenship see Latinas as a group they can stereotype: they’re coming across the border to have a child who is then a so-called ‘anchor baby’-- which will result in greater immigration, legal or not, of people coming into this country from other countries. I think they’re intentionally trying to develop a characterization of not just the community, but of women in particular, as taking advantage of resources and opportunities here, and at the same time giving birth to another generation of people of color. So there really is intentionality there to draw a very negative stereotype about immigrant women.”

Whether the immigrant women of Arizona, and their families, will indeed be forced to bear the burden that these new pieces of legislation seek to place on them is something the state of Arizona will determine in the not too distant future; at present, the bills are awaiting a vote from the full State Senate. But we all have a role to play in ensuring nothing so disastrous can come to pass: Stand up for the women of Arizona now... before it's too late.

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