PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Amparo, Alicia and Ana María live in three different states but their lives and those of their children are plagued by the same fear, harassment and frustration as a result of anti-immigration policies like Arizona’s SB 1070.
“We have our entire life here,” said Amparo, an undocumented immigrant living in Arizona. “If there’s a separation, what is going to happen with these children?”
The three women shared their stories in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Arizona immigration bill, during a telephonic briefing organized by We Belong Together, a collaboration of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum and other women and human rights organizations that have been documenting these testimonies in states like Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.
On Monday, the Supreme Court justices ruled against three parts of Arizona’s immigration legislation –among them one that made it a state crime for a person to be undocumented. But they favored one provision that would make it mandatory for police to investigate the immigration status of people if they have reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally.
While civil rights organizations see the defeat of the three provisions as a success, they believe women and children will be more vulnerable to this last portion of the law, which has already been in effect in other parts of the country through copycat laws like HB 56 in Alabama.
“It’s a huge setback for women’s rights and civil rights,” said Ellen Bravo, director of Family Values at Work, a group that advocates for women’s rights. “Arizona’s approach is out of line with deeply held American values about family and equality.”
Bravo emphasized that the ruling will lead to racial profiling that will open the door for women to be afraid to report sexual assault, abuse at work and domestic violence.
Karen Tumlin, managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), said the ruling was a “mixed-bag” for communities of color across the country. On the one hand, she said, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that states can’t criminalize immigrants; the Supreme Court let stand a provision they let stand opens the door for local police to engage in racial profiling.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have to guess what this will do [in Arizona],” she said, noting that the copycat law already in place in Alabama has impacted women and families there. “This provision threatens to bring tremendous pain to communities in Arizona.”
The provision, however, will not go into effect immediately; it will be implemented after a 23-day period established by the court.
Through a hotline NILC has received numerous calls from immigrants who described the impact that the “Papers, please” portion of the law in that state.
“This type of discrimination by law enforcement officers works a powerful chilling effect; the result has been that caller after caller told us that now they live in a state of fear,” said Tumlin.
Tumlin said that this has a deep impact on their children; even if they were born in the United States, she said, they “internalize a deep sense of not belonging.”
Driving while brown
Amparo understands that all too well. Her daughter was pulled over by a Maricopa County Sheriff deputy who said he pulled her over because her car had cracked windshield.
“When she was released from jail, her children didn’t want to go out because they were afraid she’d be arrested again,” she said.
About two months ago, another family member was pulled over and law enforcement asked his son which hospital he was born in.
“That was like mocking us,” said Amparo. “How is the child supposed to know that?”
The provision of SB 1070 that will go into effect – requiring police to ask such questions – could make it harder for immigrant mothers to take care of their U.S.-born children. In states like Georgia and Alabama, which have enacted similar laws, women say they are already facing the consequences.
Alicia, a mother of a 5-year-old with special needs, is one example.
“I need to be able to drive fast to go to the hospital,” said Alicia, whose daughter has frequent seizures and sleep disorders.
Alicia lives in Georgia, one of the states that passed a law modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070. Georgia’s immigration law, called HB 87, allows police to stop and interrogate people about their immigration status.
Alicia said police have pulled her over several times, including on one occasion when she was taking her daughter to the hospital.
“(The officer) didn’t care. He kept me there for 30 minutes, until I could get someone else to take me to the hospital,” she said.
Alicia said this is a matter of life and death for her daughter that needs to visit the neurologist often.
Ana María describes a similar experience in Alabama, where a similar provision has already taken effect through Alabama’s copycat law HB 56.
“It wasn’t up until they stopped me and my husband is when I realized the cruelty of that law,” she said. “We suffer from harassment for the police day after day.”
Ana María and her husband have a pending immigration proceeding that would allow them to stay in the country legally. But that hasn’t protected them against being pulled over and asked for their papers.
“We are waiting for our documents from immigration,” she said. “Like us, there’s lots of people that are waiting for their documentation. When police stop us they don’t know what to do because immigration laws are complicated and they don’t have sufficient training to understand it.”
Bravo said We Belong Together will continue to work to shed light on the stories of these women and to help inform them of their rights.
“They’re the leading voices for change,” she said, “and unfortunately they’re the voices that are either silent or ignored in this policy debate.”