The attack on Latinos

As long as the nation lacks comprehensive immigration reform, laws similar to Arizona's SB1070 will continue to be introduced across the country.


OPINION The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Monday for United States v. State of Arizona. Latinos in California were watching closely.

The case addresses the constitutionality of Arizona's SB1070 law. SB1070 is one of the broadest and strictest immigration enforcement measures ever enacted by any state in the nation. The court's decision will send a strong signal not just to Arizona, but to the 13 other states considering similar laws. As an immigration lawyer and a first-generation Mexican American from Orange County, laws like SB1070 remind me of how much history repeats itself.

Every day I see families face deportation due to minor encounters with the law. When a broken tail light is used as a reason to stop, overcharge, and deport an individual, then something is seriously wrong with our law enforcement priorities, our laws, and even our morals.

After the Great Depression, Operation Wetback, a strategy enforced by the INS, expedited the deportation of 80,000 "Mexican-looking" Americans, including many Mexicans and Latinos born in the United States — and some Native Americans.

The movement by states to enact immigration laws and scapegoat Latinos started in California with Proposition 187. Passed in November 1994, Prop. 187 sought, among other things, to require police, health care professionals, and teachers to verify and report the immigration status of all individuals, including children. Well-funded anti-immigrant groups like FAIR created a blueprint for states and cities to become immigration law enforcement agents. In light of the discrimination that ensued — even though Prop. 187 was ultimately found unconstitutional — many view this period as one of the worst moments for Latinos in recent California history.

In the wake of SB1070, other states are attempting to pass similar or more extreme laws at an alarming rate. Republican state legislator Randy Terrill, who coauthored Oklahoma's strict 2007 immigration bill (HB1804), has promised to pursue an even stricter second-generation version of the bill that he has called an "Arizona-plus" law. He is undeterred by the fact that key provisions of HB1804 were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Arizona's Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce recently announced that state legislators will propose a bill to deny U.S. citizenship to children born of undocumented immigrants. Even though many, if not all, of these bills will be struck down as unconstitutional, they testify to the current anti-immigrant — and anti-Latino — climate.

There is little political will for immigration reform. Both the Democratic and Republican parties see Latinos largely as a source of votes, but show scant interest in ensuring that the law treats our community fairly. Even President Obama, who during his race for the presidency promised to bring change we can believe in and co-opted the United Farm Workers' slogan "Yes We Can!," has turned his back on us. Obama has earned the label "deportation czar." Under his watch, more immigrants have been deported than at any time since Operation Wetback.

As long as the nation lacks comprehensive immigration reform, laws similar to SB1070 will continue to be introduced in states across the country. Right now it is up to our judicial branch to uphold the Constitution. We, Latinos who are able to vote, must vote for those candidates whose track records show a commitment to fairness for our community — regardless of party affiliation.

Laura Sanchez is staff attorney for the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) in San Francisco.