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By the Time I Get to Arizona -- What SB 1070 Means Now

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Whether or not the climate in Arizona is becoming more progressive, the passage of SB 1070 contained a chilling anti-immigrant subtext, and has had larger ramifications for the rest of the country.

In San Francisco, I met a remarkable Diné man named Rocky. Rocky makes delicious fry bread in the Mission district, and has a loyal and devoted clientele. Everybody loves Rocky. If you are ever in San Francisco, go to "El Rio" in the Mission, ask for the fry bread, and tip generously.

Rocky spoke with me about his experience living in Arizona, and how he made the decision to leave after the passing of SB 1070. There were other factors, of course. He moved out to San Francisco with his girlfriend at the time. He wanted a change.

What really stuck out for me was Rocky's awareness that life became a lot less safe for him in Phoenix in the summer of 2010. He could be stopped at any time and asked for his papers, and arrested if he did not have proper documentation. He could be harassed on a day to day basis by police with no recourse for justice.

The thing is, Rocky is Diné. Also known as Navajo. Also known as Native American. Also known as the first people encountered by European colonialists (also known as our forefathers). Rocky is as far from an illegal immigrant as you can get.

Rocky is not an illegal Mexican immigrant, but if by the guidelines of SB 1070 he looked that way to a passing police officer, or if the police had reason to suspect that he is illegal, he could be stopped and potentially arrested. People who hire him or house him could be fined or worse. While Jan Brewer has taken great pains to publicly condemn the notion of racial profiling by the police, Arizona doesn't have the best history when it comes to race, and a new police training manual does not guarantee an end to racial profiling.

To some extent, things have changed in Arizona since SB 1070 was first signed into law by Jan Brewer. This past Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three of four key provisions of SB 1070, reversing many of the harsher elements of one of the strictest anti-immigration laws in recent American history.

Arizona business leaders and community groups have reportedly made an effort to encourage a "more tolerant climate for immigrants", following a series of country-wide boycotts of Arizona tourism businesses and hotels that have cost the state upwards of $141 million.

Whether or not the climate in Arizona is becoming more progressive, the passage of SB 1070 contained a chilling anti-immigrant subtext, and has had larger ramifications for the rest of the country.

Laws such as SB 1070 (which was imitated unsuccessfully in six other states) are reflective of larger economic fears and xenophobia.

When we talk about laws that crack down on illegal immigrants, we are specifically speaking about Mexican immigrants who illegally cross the border to work in the U.S. When we talk about racial profiling at the airport, we are really speaking about stopping Muslims who we "reasonably suspect" could be terrorists. When we talk about policing gang violence in inner cities, we are discussing young Black and Hispanic men. All of these conversations are couched in language that hide their inherent prejudice, and this misdirected fear comes from our reaction to stories we see in the media, personal experiences, and financial instability.

When xenophobia and fear become law, the consequences are far-reaching and create a variety of challenges. Just look to Trayvon Martin, and the complications created by the Stand-your-ground law in Florida. In the case of SB 1070, we see a ripple of anti-immigration sentiment in other states. Not enough time has passed to assess the impact this law (even with the Supreme Court revisions) has had on the lives of Arizonans or Americans in general, but without a doubt it reinforces a larger discriminatory and anti-immigration sentiment already roiling just under the surface.

I suspect that in Arizona right now, less individuals are coming forward to report crimes to the police, for fear of being arrested or worse. I suspect more innocent "suspicious-looking" (read: Hispanic) citizens are being stopped and questioned on the street and while driving. I suspect that, in general, Arizona is a less kind and less safe place to live for young American entrepreneurs like Rocky.

Fear and prejudice are dangerous and unwieldy legislative tools, and they can spread like wildfire (particularly in an uncertain economy). The Supreme Court has attempted to provide some level of moderation, but it is up to every state official to act rationally in the best interests of all of their constituents, and not in fear or out of prejudice.