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Irasema Garza Headshot

Arizona Law Compounds Immigrant Women's Vulnerability

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Imagine that legislators from a cash-strapped state pass a law which diverts local police department resources away from violent crime, forcing them to spend important time and energy arresting individuals who left home without their driver's license. Imagine that the same measures had the practical effect of leaving residents hesitant about contacting police to report crimes and nervous about leaving their homes for fear that a normal grocery trip may end in an arrest, causing local businesses to suffer. Finally, imagine that the law passed greatly increased the likelihood that unprincipled and abusive individuals now have greater leverage with which to exploit their workers, or threaten wives and girlfriends.

Most voters would consider such outcomes to be untenable. Add in the element of "immigration," however, and the normal rules, and measures of effectiveness -- like safety, economic efficiency and protection of civil liberties -- are all cast aside, at least in Arizona.

Arizona SB 1070
is a lesson in shortsighted and counterproductive lawmaking, with potentially devastating effects for the state's communities. As Washington now turns its attention to drafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation that will actually work for America, SB 1070 offers an important illustration of exactly what not to do.

SB 1070 rests on the fallacy that all individuals who live, work, and learn in America without immigration papers are criminals. They may be volunteers at church, loyal employees, coaches for little league, and nannies to children, but still they are considered "criminals" in Arizona, just by virtue of lacking paperwork.

Forcing local law enforcement to prosecute these "criminals" comes at a very high price.

By requiring local law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of any person they stop, detain or arrest, whom they "reasonably suspect" may be in the country illegally, diverts valuable resources away from the real work of the police -- community safety -- and forces them to focus on immigration enforcement.

Secondly, such requirements actively undermine community policing efforts and destroy the trust built between police departments and the communities they serve. By compelling police officers to assume immigration enforcement duties, legislators eviscerate the relationship-building efforts of officers who have worked hard to ensure that immigrant crime victims and witnesses will feel safe coming forward and working with police and prosecutors to fight crime.

A third, and perhaps the most insidious, result of this legislation, is the culture of impunity that it breeds for those who exploit and abuse immigrants. By frightening immigrants into silence and discouraging them from interacting with police in any capacity, these laws send a strong message to perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking and other crimes that they will not be prosecuted so long as they target immigrant victims.

The "immigration enforcement above all else" model has a particularly brutal impact on immigrant women. Immigrant women often confront an impossible choice: do they risk deportation to report a crime? Or, do they endure abuse and exploitation at the hands of violent partners or opportunistic employers, with sometimes fatal results, in order to stay with their children, and near the only support networks they know?

As written, the Arizona law compounds immigrant women's vulnerability. For the immigrant women whose spouse or employer controls access to their immigration papers, SB 1070's requirement that all persons carry with them documentation proving that they are lawful residents will put immigrant women at greater risk of detention and potential removal from the U.S. Fearing that a trip to the store may lead to detention, these women will become ever more beholden to abusive husbands and controlling bosses.

Worse, Arizona's law will lead to a dramatic increase in separation of children from their immigrant mothers. As immigration enforcement increases and is expanded by Arizona law to include the "crime" of not carrying proof of legal immigration status, more primary caretaker mothers will be detained and separated from their children. Children of immigrant parents will be stranded at school or child care without a parent to pick them up at the end of the day because the parent has been placed in jail by local police.

While we can deplore Arizona's passage of such a dangerous bill, we must nevertheless thank them for reminding Washington that our nation desperately needs a smarter, better solution. We need to secure our borders to protect us from real criminals that traffic drugs and smuggle human beings into the country. However, we won't fight these crimes, or make our communities safer, by labeling all immigrants "criminals." Instead of employing easy rhetoric, we need real reform.