A representative from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF, the organization leading efforts on disputing the Arizona immigration initiatives), members from the National Hispanic Professional Organization (NHPO) of Austin, and community members gathered at Dario’s Mexican Restaurant in East Austin to discuss the effect and consequences of Arizona’s Immigration Law, which will go into effect July 29.
The law has become a local concern now that Republican State Representatives Leo Berman, from Tyler, and Debbie Riddle, of Tomball, seek to pass similar legislation in Texas.
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Esq. from MALDEF, which has filed an order in district federal court to stop implementation of SB1070, led the discussion by saying that the law does not align well with federal law. “Immigration is reserved for Federal government. The state is not equipped to handle immigration [issues]. There is no system or database to verify documentation,” he said. Regulations on immigration are a national policy because they directly influence how our nation interacts with foreign governments.
Furthermore, the law is too vague in its terms, giving law enforcement the ability to stop someone if “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States”, which may allow for racial profiling. Police officers are being told that this involves appearance, language of speakers, and groups meeting together. Day laborers cannot congregate in street corners for purpose of work although this act is protected by the First Amendment, which allow of freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble.
Police will be instructed to confirm immigration status every time they pull someone over. Given the complexities of immigration categories and the many different forms of documentation, officers would not necessarily be equipped to handle this demand.
Under the law, a person may be detained until they can show proof of being here legally. The problem with detainment is that immigrants are being held for weeks, when the maximum should be 48 hours. This goes against the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that certain steps are required before depriving a person of their life, liberty, or property.
The burden of the law will fall on Latinos to have information accessible. Leonard Martinez, candidate for Judge of the 299th District Court, calls SB1070 racially motivated.
Another concern mentioned was whether the law would create an environment where victims do not call police to report a crime, or cooperate with an investigation for fear of deportation.
When asked about next steps, Espinoza-Madrigal advised the community to “apply pressure to political officials. Call your congressman … Become part of the process. Vote!” NHPO board member, N. Lillian Almanza stated, “This is a minority issue that calls for reunitement.” A push for some type of immigration reform was suggested.
NHPO plans on holding other Think Tanks on current event issues throughout the year. “How can leaders in the community act if not educated? That’s why events like these are so important,” said Pauline Anton, NHPO Chair.By Monica Pena