Arizona immigration legislation elicits widespread protest

Arizona immigration legislation elicits widespread protest

May 13, 2010
Written by Gregg Brekke

A diverse array of protests, boycotts and de-facto economic sanctions have been levied against Arizona and it's businesses in the wake of Gov. Jan Brewer's April 23 signature of SB 1070, a bill that makes it illegal not to carry immigration documents and broadens law enforcement powers in immigation matters. With implementation of the legislation scheduled for July 28, 2010, many are hopeful these actions will encourage Arizona's legislature to reconsider the law.

"The human justice cost of SB 1070 may not influence the legislature," says the Rev. Phillip Reller, chair of the United Church of Christ's Southwest Conference justice and witness team. "But the economic cost of a widespread boycott certainly will get their attention."

Faith leaders from the UCC, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church in Arizona gathered in Tempe, Ariz., May 12 to map out their opposition to what they say is the law's racists policies and anti-Hispanic fear invoking biases. Coordinated by Reller and his team, over 40 delegates participated in person or via conference call to set a course for action over the next two months.

For now, that action primarily consists of organizing a large contingent of UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to be present at a May 28-29 rally and protest march in Phoenix, and educating and equipping congregation with facts about implementation of the new law.

Continued activites include potential plans to relocate Hispanic UCC congregations out of state and organizing local voter registration drives in opposition to candidates who were proponents of SB 1070. Reller says the UCC's Southwest Conference will also participate in lawsuits that seek to restrict the implementation of the law.

Although the Conference was first to take action in the days following the law's signing, other faith communites have subsequently weighed in.

The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees voted May 6 to ask the General Assembly to approve pulling the 2012 General Assembly out of Phoenix. "Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 undermines everything our nation stands for," said UUA President Peter Morales in an April 23 statement. "Under the provisions of this law, members of my own extended family could be targeted and detained, even though we have been American citizens for generations."

Mennonite Church USA leaders are considering relocating their 2013 national convention from Phoenix. "We want all parts of Mennonite Church USA to feel welcome at convention locations," said Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning for Mennonite Church USA. "This bill does not send a welcoming message."

In what many regard as a significant fiscal action, the City of Los Angeles announced Wednesday that it is limiting official city travel to Arizona and will cease soliciting contracts from Arizona companies for new business. The action was approved by the Los Angeles City Council 13-1. While not a complete boycott of business with Arizona, the Council's action is anticipated to curtail the city's spending by $8 million on an existing $58 million worth of contracts with Arizona firms.

City Councils in San Francisco, Austin and El Paso, Texas, and St. Paul, Minn., have all enacted similar boycotts on Arizona travel and business dealings. Several other cities around the nation are poised to vote on their own boycotts or sanctions.

When asked about popular poll numbers that show between 59 and 70 percent approval of the new law from Arizona voters, Reller isn't swayed. "I would question the polls," he says. "The proponents [of SB 1070] were out in front of the legislation with a lot of false content.

"We've been ramping up our organizing to combat the misinformation and politics of fear that has sought to convince people that they are terrorized by undocumented immigrants," says Reller.

Gov. Brewer and Reller were guests for a radio debate last week in which Brewer reiterated her position that undocumented immigrants are terrorists and should be treated as such. Reller replied, "Gov. Brewer, we live in very different worlds."

And those different worlds are well represented within Arizona, where two city councils have taken action to prevent implementation of the law. The Tucson City Council decided Tuesday to mount a legal challenge to SB 1070. City Attorney Mike Rankin has been directed to sue the state to overturn the law. Also Tuesday, the Flagstaff City Council voted to sue to keep the law from taking effect as scheduled at the end of July.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said earlier this week he expects area businesses to lose at least $90 million in hotel and convention business over the next five years should currently proposed boycotts be enforced. The number is not inclusive of revenue streams including air travel, restaurant spending and ancillary shopping by convention goers.

Reller believes it will take this sort of force for the law to be repealed. "The struggle for civil rights in the United States, and in South Africa, required outside pressure to influence legislators," he says. "When you have a boycott, everyone suffers. There's great anger at the legislation, but theres also a sense that God is doing a new thing here."

It's that hope that keeps Reller and others motivated. "There's a great deal of optimism in the activist community," he says. "Although the law was intended for evil, God can use it for good. Underlying attitudes of dehumanization and racism have now become overt – and we're ready to confront them."

Attorney Brendan N. Mahoney, the UCC's Southwest Conference Moderator, has prepared the legal brief "Arizona's New Anti-Immigrant Legislation and Common Immigration Myths" to help inform and guide conversations regarding SB 1070.

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