This week, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the Asian American Justice Center, members of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, filed a lawsuit with other national civil rights organizations to challenge SB 1070, a sweeping anti-immigrant bill recently signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
This unconstitutional and patently un-American law requires police officers to question anyone stopped by the police who they “reasonably suspect” is undocumented, and ask for their papers. It expands the authority of law enforcement to make warrantless arrests and gives officers carte blanche to engage in racial profiling, where characteristics like language fluency, accent, style of dress, and the company that someone keeps are major factors in how the police decide if a person is suspected of being undocumented. Arizona’s SB 1070 targets Latinos in particular for “attrition through enforcement” by establishing a comprehensive state immigration scheme that is unconstitutional and divisive.
The coalition filing the lawsuit also includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), ACLU of Arizona, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON).
The civil rights organizations are representing nearly two dozen named plaintiffs, including the Japanese American Citizens League, whose Arizona chapter has 300 members; Arizona South Asians for Safe Families; Asian Chamber of Commerce; and Muslim American Society.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are no strangers to xenophobia and racism. To this day, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 remains the only legislation in U.S. history that adopted an explicitly race-based prohibition on entry into the United States. The Geary Act of 1892, which reauthorized the Chinese Exclusion Act, required Chinese immigrants to carry a residence certificate on them at all times upon penalty of deportation. Immigration officials and police officers conducted spot checks in canneries, mines, and lodging houses demanding that every Chinese person show these residence certificates. Similarly, Arizona’s SB 1070 will make all who appear to be foreign subject to this “show- me-your-papers” method of law enforcement.
In the 1990s, the Garden Grove, Calif., police department settled a lawsuit with 14 Asian American youth. The youth were racially profiled by officers who labeled them suspected gang members based solely on their ethnicity and clothing.
In 1999, Dr. Wen Ho Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan, was fired from his job as a nuclear scientist at Los Alamos, a weapons research facility and accused of spying. Dr. Lee, too, was targeted because of his race.
Branded as a Chinese spy before being exonerated, memos by high-ranking officials acknowledged that Lee was singled out because he was Chinese. Dr. Lee was grossly mistreated and imprisoned for 278 days in solitary confinement with handcuffs and shackles, even though he was not convicted of any crime.
Most recently, South Asians and Muslims have been subjected to racial profiling after 9/11 in the name of “national security.” Name and appearance have been used to keep law-abiding individuals—immigrant and native-born, citizen and noncitizen—off of airplanes, on watch lists, and under increased government scrutiny. Immigrants have been collected in large-scale round-ups and workplace raids, and forced to endure harsh conditions, prolonged detention, secret immigration trials and deportation, often for minor violations. Yet not a single successful terrorism conviction resulted from these post-9/11 sweeps.
Now, AAPIs again stand to be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin. If SB 1070 is allowed to go into effect, both immigrant and native-born AAPIs in the state will be forced to carry documents that verify their legal status in the U.S. at all times, or risk detention, interrogation, and arrest. AAPI women — indeed all immigrant women — who are the victims of domestic violence at the hands of their batterers will be even more afraid to come forward. Jim Shee, a 70-year-old U.S.-born citizen of Chinese and Spanish descent, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, has already been stopped twice by law enforcement officers in Arizona asking to see his “papers.”
The AAPI population in Arizona is roughly 20% South Asian, 20% Chinese, 19% Filipino, and 14% Vietnamese. Over one in four is limited English speaking. The provisions of SB 1070 tell community members that law enforcement is not to be trusted. AAPI witnesses and victims of crime—indeed witnesses and victims of many races and ethnicities — will be reticent to come forward and report them to police for fear that they will be detained or deported.
SB 1070 will not only affect immigrants, but those who associate with, help and protect them. Even business owners, like the 90-member strong Asian Chamber of Commerce in Arizona, which is a plaintiff in the case, fear their members will be targeted. In Arizona, Asians and Latinos wield significant economic power, with about $37 billion in combined consumer purchasing power. Their businesses also have sales and receipts of $12.2 billion a year and employ nearly 65,000 people.
SB 1070 ultimately sets a dangerous precedent for other states that want to follow Arizona’s example. Legislators in Pennsylvania and Minnesota have already introduced similar legislation, demonstrating the urgent need for the federal government to tackle head-on the broken immigration system.
Julie Su is litigation director, and Connie Choi is an immigration policy advocate at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles. For more information regarding the lawsuit, visit www.apalc.org for the press release and the complaint filed in this case.