Prop 187

In Arizona, History Repeating

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is poised to sign the toughest immigration bill in the country.  It is intended to terrify Arizona's undocumented immigrants, but the consequences of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 aren't limited to any one community. SB 1070 attacks and demeans the civil rights of every hard-working, tax-paying American citizen.  And like every piece of Draconian legislation before it, SB 1070 has the potential to ignite and empower the very community it seeks to disable.

On its face, SB 1070 is bad and impractical policy: the legislation makes it a misdemeanor for foreign nationals to lack proper immigration paperwork in Arizona.  But since it's impossible to identify a foreign national by sight, it effectively mandates that all individuals in Arizona carry papers.  That's right: you, American citizen, can't walk your dog or buy milk from the grocery store without having papers on you that confirm your legal residence.  If you take your kids to the park and forget your documentation at home, you can be held in police custody until your information is verified, even if you're a U.S. citizen.

The legislation directs police officers to inquire as to immigration status on a "reasonable suspicion" that a person might be undocumented.  Forget that this turns local police into immigration enforcers, and that the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the bill, contending it will likely erode already waning trust with immigrant communities.   What exactly does reasonable suspicion look like?  Driving the wrong car?  Having the wrong haircut?  Speaking to your children in Spanish?  How many Latinos could be reasonably suspected of not belonging?

The passage of this legislation will have a devastating impact on Arizona, but those realities will pale in longevity to the political consequences of Governor Brewer making it law.  The House vote on SB 1070 divided along partisan lines: all 35 ayes came from Republicans, and all 21 nays came from Democrats (four Democrats did not vote).  Although the frustration and anger of Arizona's immigrant, Latino and activists communities will likely spill over to the national Democratic leadership, which is perceived as being ineffective in getting the job done on comprehensive reform, history teaches us that the real political downfall will be Republicans', and Republicans' alone.

In 1994, California Republicans led a fight to pass Proposition 187, the "Save Our State initiative," which was designed to prohibit undocumented immigrants' access to social services, health care, and public education.  Just as with SB 1070, Prop 187 smacked of xenophobic motives, and just as with SB 1070, it was introduced and promoted by Republicans, including Republican Governor Pete Wilson.  And just as the Republican Party's advocacy for Prop 187, and its galvanizing affect on the state's Latinos (augmented - of course - with a gold-standard voter registration campaign) marked the decline of the party's fortunes in California, passage of SB 1070, if matched with proper organizing, will define the political legacy of the Arizona Republican Party.

In the short term, Governor Brewer signing her name to this legislation will likely help her maintain support within her party, but in the long term, she will go down in history as the executor of the Arizona Republican Party's demise.

´╗┐This is cross-posted from Latinovations blog.

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