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Arizona Sheriff's Reign of Terror Becomes State Policy

With Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's April 25 signature affixed to Senate Bill 1070, Arizona is poised to direct all law enforcement agencies to adopt Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's policy of rounding up and incarcerating Mexicans and then shipping them back across the border if they lack proper documentation of their status in America.

Arpaio's sweeps include deputies in black ski masks to underscore the tone of terror.

The new law, sponsored by former sheriff's deputy and current state Senator Russell Pearce, is, as a matter of fact, part of a national attack on Latino immigrants coordinated by FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Authored by FAIR's Kris W. Kobach, a controversial former Justice Department attorney under John Ashcroft, similar legislation is poised to be introduced in seven other states: Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and South Carolina.

Senate Bill 1070 instructs police officers to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they have a "reasonable suspicion" may be in the country illegally.

Critics point out that the new legislation allows individuals to be stopped absent criminal behavior. The demand to know whether a person's papers are in order smacks of an authoritarianism not seen in this country in recent memory.

"Nazism," observed Los Angeles' Catholic archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Such vivid, and vitriolic, reactions were not limited to the devout. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon announced he would file a lawsuit on behalf of the city challenging the legislation. Intent to litigate was also announced by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, and two police officers, one each from Tucson and Phoenix. (Mayor Gordon could not secure the majority of the Phoenix City Council necessary to move forward legally, but he continues to speak out.)

Because the state has usurped federal authority over immigration, the legislation is open to a constitutional challenge.

More troubling is the fact that racial profiling is the very foundation of Senate Bill 1070. The Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits selective enforcement based upon race. All Hispanics, no matter their citizenship, will be subjected to a police state that applies to no one else. No one else at all.

Driving While Brown now joins Driving While Black — not simply in the vernacular of human beings targeted because of skin color by law enforcement but also in the law books. Arizona, which at one point repealed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, appears determined to stake out racial frontiers.

Although Senator Pearce's name is on the bill, it is not surprising that the legislation is so heavy-handed racially, given the role of FAIR in drafting the contents. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified FAIR as a racially driven organization.

In 1986, FAIR's founder, John Tanton, wrote: "As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?"

Kobach, while at Harvard, fell under the sway of Professor Samuel Huntington, according to research by Kansas City journalist Carolyn Szczepanski.

In his 2004 book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity, Huntington claimed immigration, particularly by Latinos, threatened American culture.

Writing in the Kansas City-based alternative newsweekly The Pitch, Szczepanski noted that Kobach does missionary work in Africa, where he distributes Bibles to "people who live in huts, who have no written material whatsoever."

Kobach's proselytizing allows him to instruct Africans in "Christian and universal values."

We know precisely what the impact of Senate Bill 1070 will be upon the streets of Arizona because of a little-noticed settlement in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

In 2001, Flagstaff attorney Lee Brooke Phillips and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona sued the state, charging that the Department of Public Safety — the highway patrol — engaged in rampant racial profiling.

John Lamberth, a Temple University professor with expertise in racial-profiling research, produced data in 2000 that showed African Americans made up fewer than 3 percent of traffic offenders but 43 percent of all stops by the DPS.

Based upon this study, the court ordered the highway patrol to turn over all data on traffic stops in northern Arizona for a one-year period.

What happened next made seasoned observers blink.

Instead of turning over records, records were destroyed.

"Look, the judge ordered the state to turn over a year's worth of records, and the state's prosecutor's office refused to turn them over," noted Phillips in an interview at the time with an advocacy group. "We learned they weren't turning them over because half of them have been destroyed."

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Michael Lacey is the executive editor of Village Voice Media, a group of 15 metropolitan newsweeklies that stretch from Miami to San Francisco. He writes frequently for Phoenix New Times, which he co-founded in 1970. In 1997, he co-founded New Times Broward-Palm Beach, and since then, the paper has seen circulation increase nearly ten-fold. Lacey’s work has been recognized in the following journalism competitions: Unity Awards in Media, Mencken Awards, Heywood Broun Awards, Golden Quill Awards, Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, Nixon Newspaper National Journalism Writing Awards, John Bartlow Martin Awards, Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Awards, Best of the West Awards, Maggie Awards, and the Arizona Press Club’s Don Schellie Award for Feature Column Writing.
Contact: Michael Lacey

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