In 1987, I was living in Tucson. I was in 7th grade and the state of Arizona provided me with a crash course in racism, the civil rights movement and very poor decision-making. Former Governor Evan Mecham infamously rescinded an executive order by his predecessor, Governor Bruce Babbitt, which had made Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid-state holiday. In 1990, the citizens of the state then voted down a proposition that would have created a paid-state holiday. After significant humiliation and economic damage to the state, including the NFL moving the 1993 Super Bowl location out of Phoenix, the voters finally approved the holiday in 1992.
Even though the citizens ultimately made the right choice, the consequences of this struggle lingered. In the ensuing decade, when I lived in New York, people would call Arizona the “racist” state or associate our state with the MLK Jr. Day controversy. To not properly honor a civil rights hero was an embarrassment to Arizona and to those who believe in progress and tolerance.
Perhaps Arizona learned its lesson after this controversy? Nope.
In 2010, history repeated itself, except this time the law involved immigration. The Arizona legislature passed the xenophobic and draconian SB 1070 bill, which was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer. The law immediately drew the ire of millions across the United States and the world. SB 1070, which intended to racially profile and target immigrants, day laborers and those who assist immigrants, was swiftly challenged and largely gutted by federal court decisions ruling it unconstitutional but parts of it remained in force. Last week, after six years of boycotts, bad publicity, and millions of dollars wasted on legal costs, the state settled the lawsuit brought by civil rights and immigrant rights organizations—perhaps finally closing this ugly chapter in its history. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued an opinion that provided, in part:
Officers shall not prolong a stop or detention for an immigration inquiry to request or obtain verification of immigration status, or prolong a criminal investigation or inquiry in order to accommodate or complete immigration-related tasks…
There are many lessons that we learn from yet another dark time in Arizona history. The most profound one, in my opinion, is that we can ultimately work to repair our nation’s immigration system, but it cannot come from mean-spirited laws passed by individual municipalities and states. The concept of “attrition through enforcement” was a failed idea from the start and our country can do better than to try and break up families, deport hard-working laborers, and intimidate communities.
Written by Maurice (Mo) Goldman, Chair, AILA Media Advocacy Committee
To learn more about this issue, watch AILA Advocacy Director Greg Chen share his insights in this video: AILA Quicktake #175: Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Agreement