2012-06-28 16:00:00

Jewish Groups Concerned Over Arizona's 'Papers, Please' Law

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-3 ruling that strikes down three parts of SB1070, Arizona's anti-illegal immigration law, and keeps intact Section 2, which has been dubbed by its foes as "show me your papers," a consensus appears to be building among Jewish voices in the state calling for Congress to reform immigration laws and enforcement, while securing the border.

As Rabbi John Linder, one of 13 Reform rabbis who signed a May 7, 2010, letter to Gov. Jan Brewer that sought the law's repeal soon after its passage, told Jewish News, "The (Supreme Court) decision is an affirmation of the letter signed by the rabbis that essentially says that the (issue) of immigration reform resides in the federal government."

Speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the other rabbis or his synagogue, Temple Solel, Linder said, "We've got an outdated immigration system that needs to be reformed."

An "aleph bet" soup of national Jewish groups - including HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), ADL (Anti-Defamation League), AJC (American Jewish Committee) and NCJW (National Council of Jewish Women) - had filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs opposing the law, and issued statements immediately after the ruling was released June 25 that welcomed the court's overturning of the three sections but concerned over the enforcement of the fourth provision.

As Jewish News reported in August 2010 after U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued an injunction, Section 2 was seen as the key provision of the law. It requires local police to determine the immigration status of people encountered during "any lawful stop, detention or arrest ... where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the United States illegally."

The primary concern expressed by groups such as the ADL is how that provision can be enforced without racial profiling and without creating a climate of fear among citizens and legal residents of the United States who look or sound like the people being targeted by the law, undocumented Hispanic immigrants.

"The provision that was left intact is so hideous that I can't imagine it will survive the court challenges that are sure to come," Bill Straus, Arizona regional director of ADL, told Jewish News. Asked why he called it hideous, he replied, "I used to talk with my grandmother, and she spoke with a thick accent." She told him that whenever she went anywhere outside of her own circle and spoke, "she got 'the look.'"

"That's what Latino people tell me 1070 does to them," Straus said. "They look like the group that's being targeted and they get 'the look' that says, 'You don't belong. You're out of place.'"

He went on to talk about a friend of his, whose family has been in Arizona longer than Straus' (his father came to the state in 1935). She told him that when his father came to the state, "We were just like the Strauses, just as American as any other family," but now when she's out in public with her granddaughters, she gets "the look," and a visit to an emergency room proved a nightmare, he said.

"We have an entire segment of the community whose appearance and speech is often mistaken for the targeted illegal immigrant community," he said. ADL's amicus is most specifically concerned that Latinos will become reluctant to report hate crimes to authorities.

"The one piece that still leaves those with brown skin vulnerable is problematic, it leaves them vulnerable in a way that is not acceptable," Linder said.

Interpreting the mitzvah in Exodus 22:20 ("You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt") to mean that immigrants, regardless of legal status, should be treated with the respect accorded a citizen, Linder said, "Anybody who has the Bible as the foundation of their lives should see this as a case where the alien residents living among us are not being treated with that respect."

Asked whether he believes Section 2 of SB1070 can be enforced without racial profiling, Carlos Galindo-Elvira, who is vice president of philanthropic and community relations at Valle del Sol, told Jewish News, "I think that it's going to be a question of working with law enforcement through their training or input that they'll seek from the community to safeguard against any practices that might lead to racial profiling." Galindo-Elvira, who is Jewish and Latino, emphasized that there is some time to go before Section 2 takes effect. The first steps involve the decision going back to the lower court and Bolton lifting her 2010 injunction, he said.

Valle del Sol is a Valley nonprofit that provides social services in English and Spanish. It was part of an amicus brief filed in the case, formally known as Arizona v. United States.

"The Supreme Court justices were quite clear that the purview of immigration falls under the federal government, and so it's time for (Congress) to act," he said of this week's ruling.

"The one lesson that all of us should get from this is that Arizona is not going to fix what's broken with immigration, nor is Georgia, nor is Texas, and the only solution will come from a group that has thus far been unwilling to fix it," Straus said. "We as voters, we as constituents need to put pressure on Congress."

"The silver lining I see in SB1070 is that it has taken immigration reform, something that was previously on the back burner, mostly within (Congress) and forced it to center stage, and I think that's a good thing," Linder said.

Jewish News was unable to reach Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne for comment on the ruling.

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