Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Todos Somos Arizona | We Are All Arizona: New Era of Fight for Racial Justice & Equality

"I hate racial discrimination most intensely and all its manifestations. I have fought all my life; I fight now, and will do so until the end of my days."
-- Nelson Mandela

By Monami Maulik

As the state of Arizona passed one of the worst racial profiling laws in U.S. history, these words spoken by Mandela decades ago take on a new relevance and call on us here in the U.S. as social justice advocates.

On April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB1070, proclaiming racial profiling the law of the land and overturning decades of civil rights struggle. SB1070, if it takes effect as mandated on July 29, 2010, will require all police officers to stop anyone who 'looks' like an immigrant, ask them to show identification, and arrest and jail them if they are unable to do so. This law undoubtedly will affect most of the large immigrant population across Arizona, whether undocumented or not, but will also have a parallel chilling effect on all communities of color across the state.

As the National Immigration Law Center describes it, "Were this new bill to be enacted, Arizonans of all backgrounds would suffer a major blow to their civil rights. Arizona Senate Bill 1070 would require local authorities to racially profile the men, women, and children in their jurisdictions. All people of color would be at risk for being detained. This means that a mother taking her children to school, members of a family walking to church, or a man making a quick trip to the convenience store could be arrested for not carrying their birth certificates."

Moreover, the law will allow any civilian or organization to file suit against police officers if they are not profiling and making arrests under this law.

The consequences of SB1070 are chilling, not just for the people of Arizona, but also for the whole nation. SB1070 has ushered in a new era of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation -- this time based on race and immigration status. The racist hate mongering of the Klu Klux Klan has been replaced by the anti-immigrant vitriol of the Minute Men. The core issue of race has been expanded now to 'immigration status'- the new code word for race in small towns and big cities across the country.

Yet, the extreme move to the right in immigration law has sparked a concurrent national movement led by young people and families across many communities that is full of inspiration and hope. High school students led the way again by conducting massive school walkouts and protests across Arizona, just as in 2006 after the introduction of the similar Sensenbrenner bill in Congress.

Scores of young leaders are emerging as they chain themselves to the doors of the Arizona state legislature to usher in a new era of civil disobedience and non-compliance hearkening to the days of the freedom rides and struggle across the South. Only this past week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a new law banning ethnic studies in Arizona public schools. Without a doubt, this new law is targeting the thousands of young activists and leaders emerging from this movement. The law would also ban African-American and Native American studies in many schools. Last Wednesday, the CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos protested in Tucson. Fifteen people, almost all students, were arrested protesting this new law outside the state education offices in Tucson.

Scores of civil and immigrant rights organizations, Latino, African-American, Arab, Muslim, South Asian communities are expressing their strong solidarity and condemnation of the law. The city of San Francisco passed a resolution in protest of SB1070. National legal, immigrant rights, labor, civil rights, and other organization have issued statements denouncing the law and calling for national pressure to the Obama administration to overturn SB1070. The ACLU, Mexican American legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Immigration Law Center have filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of SB1070. Communities across the country are joined by elected leaders such as Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona who is calling on the Obama administration to turn his verbal condemnation of the law into a federal legal intervention to prohibit the law from taking effect. Even celebrities like Shakira have vocally joined the movement to end SB1070.

This new spark to the movement for immigrant rights again brought millions across the country out into the streets again on May 1st for real legalization. Here in NYC, over 20,000 marched from Union Square and thousands gathered with labor unions in Foley Square. DRUM led local New York City support in calling for unity with Arizona and caution in the call for Comprehensive Immigration Reform proposals that can result in many more Arizona's across the country. Last week, DRUM traveled to Washington D.C. with our members for the Rights Working Group national meeting. We met with Senators Schumer, Grijalva, and others to discuss challenging the Arizona law and to pass immigration reform that does not include harsh enforcement measures, as Schumer's current proposal does. Nationally, we have also worked with South Asian organizations to take a stand in solidarity and issued a national statement in support.

Coincidentally, on April 16th, days before the Arizona Governor signed SB1070, DRUM and VAMOS Unidos, two New York organizations, united Latino and South Asian immigrants here in New York on Arizona's border laws by bringing Isabel Garcia of the Coalition de Derechos Humanos from Tucson to speak at Judson Memorial Church. The event was entitled, "The Border and the Movement: A New York City Forum on Immigration Reform" and brought together diverse communities (Latino, Muslim, Sikh) in a joint dialogue with border communities on the need to end racial profiling and anti-immigrant enforcement programs spreading here in New York City such as Secure Communities (which place immigration agents in jails) and '287g' programs that deputize local police as immigration agents.

What became clear from this event is that Arizona has intentionally been created as a testing ground for passage of the worst immigration enforcement laws in the last two decades, which are then exported to the rest of the country. It is clear that all of us must keep our eyes open and stand in solidarity with communities in Arizona because what happens today there can surely happen tomorrow here.

People across the U.S. are being asked to support the campaign to boycott Arizona. Many people will travel to Arizona and hold local events on May 29th to end SB1070. Yet, we know that our efforts must continue long after May 29th and must inform our day-to-day local education and organizing locally. Arizona's racist SB1070 has shown us that the U.S. is at a critical juncture on one of the biggest civil rights struggles of our times. It is our task as advocates for social justice in this moment to expand community organizing in every part of our city and nation to hold our leaders to task and win the real changes we need. Organizing is even more vital than ever.

For more information on how to take action and get resources, visit:

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

CoaliciĆ³n de Derechos Humanos/The Human Rights Coalition

Alto Arizona

Monami Maulik's essay first appeared in the North Star Fund's Blog:


Monami Maulik is the Executive Director of DRUM-Desis Rising Up & Moving, a South Asian immigrant and workers rights organization in New York City and is member of the boardof directors of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. She can be contacted at monami@drumnyc.org

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