05/17/2010 12:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

We're Suing Arizona

Today, my organization, along with several other civil rights organizations, declared a collective "Basta!" in response to Arizona's notorious racial profiling law. This morning we filed a class action lawsuit to prevent this law from disrupting the lives of countless people of color.

Arizona's legislature recently turned back the clock on civil rights by passing SB 1070, a sweeping piece of legislation that will effectively order police to ask men, women, and children "suspected" of being undocumented to show their papers. Furthermore, those caught transporting or sheltering undocumented immigrants -- even family members -- can be charged with a criminal offense under the new law.

This law will threaten the very livelihoods and daily actions of Arizonans of color, hurting all Arizonans. Take, for example, plaintiff Luz Santiago. Santiago, a church pastor in Mesa, is a U.S. citizen and a Latina. She believes that the law will not only trample on her civil rights, but will also put the safety of her mostly Latino congregation at risk. The law would subject her to arrest for the simple act of taking congregants to the hospital when they need urgent care or youth to spiritual events if they are undocumented. She also fears that her church will no longer be a sanctuary for all, leaving vulnerable people with nowhere to turn when they need help.

Or take the example of Jim Shee, a U.S. citizen of Chinese and Spanish ancestry. Over the past month, Shee has been stopped by police twice for essentially "driving while brown." Both times, police demanded "papers" from this 70-year-old born-and-bred Arizonan. Shee, like many of us, does not carry his passport or U.S. birth certificate when running errands or driving about town. Shee rightly fears that his story will become the story of countless people in his community.

It's been decades since a state government made such an overt attempt to trample on the civil rights of an entire segment of its society. From Maine to California, millions of people of all backgrounds have united to draw a line in the sand, organizing marches and boycotts to raise concerns about this blatant affront to human rights and civil liberties. Groups ranging from the generally apolitical Phoenix Suns to active civil rights organizations across the country are standing up to reject this racist law. If we fail to take down this law and to protect the rights of all Arizonans, we will have allowed the politics of hatred and fear to win. Now, with attorneys working on the case, Friendly House, et al. v. Whiting, et al., the National Immigration Law Center will be able to utilize a powerful legal weapon in the fight to protect our rights.

Civil rights leaders and cultural icons ranging from Shakira to Desmond Tutu to President Obama have given eloquent explanations about why Arizona's racial profiling law makes a mockery of this country's values and Constitution. The National Immigration Law Center also feels it is necessary to stop this law from going into effect. We filed this suit today because if we do not take a stand, people like plaintiffs Jim Shee and Luz Santiago will suffer tremendously, and the very fabric of our society will be weakened. America is better than this and we must ensure that the founding values of this country are upheld for all.

Our rights, when threatened, must be protected by any means necessary. Until they are secured, we must continue to rally, organize, and sue to ensure that we maintain liberty, justice, and equality for all.