Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Border & Immigration

Local Impact Of Ariz. Immigration Law

Local Impact Of Ariz. Immigration Law

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Last week Arizona’s governor signed a bill that requires police to check the I.D. of people they suspect are in the state illegally, and to detain them. The new law has heightened the debate over illegal immigration and sparked vigorous reaction in San Diego on both sides. To give some context to this contentious issue, we’ve brought in Alisa Joyce Barba. She's western bureau chief for NPR News. Alisa welcome.

ALISA JOYCE BARBA (NPR News): Thanks, Gloria. It’s nice to be here.

PENNER: Thank you. What is it exactly that the new law calls for?

BARBA: The law is basically a state version of the federal law, which is to say that it’s illegal – if you do not have the right documents, if you cross the border illegally, if you are not here legally – the state can arrest you. It used to be that only federal officials could arrest somebody who was here illegally. This is a federal law in Arizona. Now state officials, law enforcement, police, the sheriffs can arrest you if you don’t have legal documents.

PENNER: So clarify that a little bit. I mean, where does state action on immigration issues fit in with the federal responsibility?

BARBA: It is the federal responsibility to deal with immigration issues in general. This has been a longstanding debate here in San Diego, in California and elsewhere. To what degree can local law enforcement step in and enforce immigration law? This is the first time in any state in the nation where the state has actually made it where their law now mirrors federal law and says it’s illegal to be in the state. Not just in the nation but in the state, and local law enforcement can pick you up.

PENNER: You know it’s interesting. The opponents say that this is an extreme law, and yet it had apparently enough support to pass.

BARBA: Apparently 70 percent of the people in Arizona supported this law, and that’s what pushed Governor Jan Brewer last weekend to actually sign it into law. There are a lot of cries of outrage across the nation. A lot of people think it violates civil rights, that it can lead to racial profiling, that having the state enforce federal law is unconstitutional. Yet at the same time, polls do say that 51 percent of Americans think this is a good law. There's a lot of fear, there's a lot of concern out there about illegal immigration and about the fact that the federal government hasn’t stepped forward with immigration reform, which rationalizes this system.

PENNER: Alright, so we’ve heard about the reaction. How intense is the reaction in San Diego and elsewhere to the Arizona law?

BARBA: Well, we did the radio show this morning and got some fascinating calls. People, I think, there's a lot of fear, there's a lot of concern. There's fear that, you know, if you are driving along the street in Arizona and you look as if you could be an illegal immigrant that you're going to be pulled over and stopped. I think people are concerned about that. I think people that are here in California, there's a lot of –Duncan Hunter and Brian Bilbray both have come out in favor of this law. There are a lot of people here in Southern California who think we need to clamp down on the border even more and there are a lot of illegal immigrants who live here in San Diego.

PENNER: Well, a coalition of immigrant rights supporters held a rally at USD on Wednesday to voice their opposition to Arizona’s controversial immigration law. We put two participants from the rally on the record to get their take on the legality and local impact of the law.

HEATHER BOXETH (Immigration Lawyer): I think that's a lack of information and a lack of education about it and I think a lot of people that are proponents of it have a fear of job loss and a fear of criminal aliens and that’s not what this is about. We have laws set in place about criminal aliens, we have laws set in place about removal proceedings and those laws are already there. This is about fear mongering. This is about anti-immigrants in general whether they are lawful or unlawful.

PEDRO RIOS (American Friends Service Committee): It's important for us to begin framing the debates around immigration within a human rights perspective. We cannot allow fear tactics to frame immigration debates. We cannot allow for bigotry to serve as a platform for how we discuss issues that are pertinent to us. So, we have to begin approaching our elected officials and we have to begin approaching communities as well to ensure that they know what the debates entail. I think the show of unity here today represents that initial stage of saying San Diego stands together in unity and will not permit this sort of legislation be proposed in California.

PENNER: So bigotry, fear of job loss, fear of criminal aliens. How does our high unemployment rate and our slow economy feed into all this?

BARBA: You know, Arizona has the highest percentage of illegal immigrant workforce of any state in the nation. Arizona’s been hit very, very hard by the recession, by the crisis in construction, the construction industry, and I think that there's a sense that the budget crisis that they're facing in Arizona or in California, I think there's a concern that the illegal immigrant population is siphoning off funds which could go to legal Americans who need a job, who need medical services, who need schools.

PENNER: What is the form that we’re seeing of the opposition at this point other than rallies.

BARBA: Lawsuits. There have been at least three lawsuits filed yesterday. Ironically, the City of Tucson, the City of Phoenix, and then a group of immigrant activists – all of them filing suit on the basis that a state law cannot enforce federal law.

PENNER: And we’re seeing other kinds of reaction as well. I’m hearing calls for actually boycotting Arizona.

BARBA: Yeah, there's been a couple. A City of San Francisco City Council, I know that the school districts. You know, strange little groups. The school district in Denver said that nobody could travel to Arizona. People are talking about calling off conventions. We’ll have to see whether any of this will actually have an economic impact. We don't know about that yet.

PENNER: But this is an election year, Alisa, and I would think that campaign rhetoric, you know once it gets going, might be stirring up the emotional response as well.

BARBA: I don’t think there's any doubt that this kind of law pleases a lot of people in the tea party faction of kind of the Republican Party. I think that there's a lot of feeling that this could stir that group up and bring out the Republican vote. There are a lot of people who feel that this is a great thing. At the same time, the Hispanic voting population is growing in every single state, especially in Arizona and in California. And Hispanics, the vast majority of them, oppose this kind of law obviously.

PENNER: What's ahead?

BARBA: What's ahead? Tomorrow, May 1st, it’s Immigration March Day. There are marches planned all over the country. I think a lot of people will be galvanized to come out because of the concern and the fear about this. This is going to be, the law is going to be challenged in the courts, the justice department, and Washington is also talking about challenging it.