The Fallout

Arizona becomes the talk of the nation after the signing of SB 1070

Standing before a massive May Day crowd protesting Arizona's new immigration law last Saturday, Congressman Raúl Grijalva blasted SB 1070 as "an affront to any value and principle of this nation."

"It violates civil rights," Grijalva thundered. "It creates a second-class status for people under the law based on race. It violates the Constitution."

Critics of the law—including some of the 7,000 or so protestors who gathered downtown on Saturday—have not been subtle in their rhetoric.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik complained the law was "racist" at a press conference last week.

"If I were a Hispanic living in this state, I would be humiliated and angered," Dupnik said, "and from that point of view, I think it's morally wrong.

Dupnik declared that he won't enforce the law unless he is forced to, but made the point that deputies already inquire about immigration violations when they believe it's appropriate. Dupnik said deputies turn suspects over to federal authorities rather than take on the expense of processing them.

But the new law allows citizens to sue cities and counties if they believe that police aren't doing enough to enforce the law. At the same time, officers can face lawsuits if they racially profile suspects, leaving the cops in what Dupnik called a "damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don't situation."

Much remains to be sorted out regarding SB 1070—including whether it will actually go into law in about three months. There's already talk of lawsuits and a referendum campaign that could delay or stop its implementation.

But this much is clear: The new law would bring local cops into the fight against illegal immigration, because they would be obligated to inquire about immigration status when they deal with someone they reasonably suspect could be in the country illegally—even if they simply pull them over for something like a busted taillight.

And while a last-minute change in the law specifically bars racial profiling, critics say it's a safe bet that Latinos and other minorities will face far more scrutiny than Anglos under SB 1070, especially if a police force decides to conduct the same kind of sweeps that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has already made in Phoenix suburbs.

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said she has been meeting with her counterparts across the state to figure out how to implement the law. She worries that a requirement to apprehend people who can't prove they are in the country legally could cause problems with a justice system that's struggling to deal with an overload of criminals and tighter budgets.

"It could be overwhelming on our limited resources," LaWall said. "One-third of my criminal prosecution division is absent. They are frozen positions that are vacant, and I cannot fill them because of budget reductions."

Since the passage of SB 1070, Arizona has been scolded in the national media and mocked on late-night talk shows. President Barack Obama said the new law "threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans." Activists and politicians—including Grijalva—have called for a boycott of the state.

Demonstrators even turned up outside of an Arizona Diamondbacks game at Chicago's Wrigley Field last week. A few days later, Michael Weiner, the executive director the Major League Baseball Players Association, expressed concern about immigrant ballplayers—many Latino—who visit Phoenix during spring training. Weiner said the union "will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members."

Tourism officials fret that if the boycott takes off, a key sector of the economy will be hammered. In the week after Brewer signed the law, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association said 19 meetings had been cancelled, resulting in the loss of more than 15,000 room nights. The hoteliers estimate the economy took a $6 million hit.

Despite the outcry against SB 1070, polls showed it's popular among the state's voters. A Rasmussen survey taken shortly after Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill showed that seven out of 10 voters liked the law, although that number had dipped to 64 percent in a subsequent survey by the company.

Other polls have indicated that the law is popular among Americans who have heard of it. A New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 51 percent of adults surveyed believed the Arizona law got it about right, while 36 percent believed it went too far. (Another 9 percent believed it didn't go far enough.)

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll last week showed that 39 percent of Americans liked it, while 30 percent were opposed, and 31 percent hadn't heard of it or didn't have an opinion.

Well aware that constituents in Congressional District 8 are at a boiling point over illegal immigration, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was cautious in her response to SB 1070. When she issued a statement on the new law one week after it was signed, she called it a "divisive" measure that "does nothing to secure the border."

But Giffords—who has called on the federal government to send National Guard troops to the border, hire more Border Patrol agents and improve cell-phone reception in the rural areas—also sympathized with the frustration felt by her constituents.

"The people of Arizona are angry, and so am I," Giffords said. "Southern Arizona, in particular, has paid a heavy price because of drug-smuggling and illegal immigration. But ... this law will do nothing to make the communities I represent safer from smugglers and the dangerous spill-over effects of border violence."

Giffords rejected Grijalva's call to boycott Arizona.

"In the congresswoman's view, it poses risks to our economy at a time when we do not need risks," said Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin.

The four GOP candidates who want to challenge Giffords this year—Jonathan Paton, Jesse Kelly, Brian Miller and Andy Goss—support the new law, with Paton boasting that he voted for it before he resigned from the state Senate to challenge Giffords.

Paton said that complaints about racial profiling have been overblown, and the national media have distorted the law. But Republicans in other states—including Jeb Bush, Mario Rubio and Karl Rove—have expressed concerns about the law creating a potential backlash from Hispanics, a fast-growing demographic that Republicans hope to someday win over.

Paton said he's not worried about negative political fallout, because he believes the law has been mischaracterized, and people will be less concerned once they become familiar with the legislation. But he adds that the real promise of the bill may be in getting Washington, D.C., to tackle immigration reform.

"The real value in this is ultimately that the federal government realizes that they made a promise to enforce these laws, and they're not doing it," Paton said.

Hank Stephenson contributed to this story.

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