By Heather Villanueva
Even though Washington is far from Arizona, the ramifications of Arizona’s controversial immigration law are playing out locally.
That’s how a simple trip to the grocery store turned into a nightmare for one family.
Sira was going to the grocery store with her husband and their son, 12, when they were pulled over by police for a noisy muffler. This wasn’t Arizona. It was in Lynden, Washington, about 5 miles from the U.S.-Canada border and home to many working immigrant families. The local sheriff called Customs and Border Patrol to interpret. The Border Patrol officers proceeded to question Sira’s husband and her other son Ramon, who came to help his parents.
Sira began to have a panic attack. She realized that Border Patrol agents posed a threat to her family. She couldn’t breathe and an ambulance was called to treat her. Even while being treated, Border Patrol agents insisted on questioning her. They asked whether or not she had additional family and demanded addresses. She watched as her older son, Ramon, and her husband were led away in handcuffs. Ramon was given a choice – either he would be arrested or his mother would go to jail. In the end, the father and Sira’s older son were deported.
Immigrant rights at the advocacy group OneAmerica recently released a report that included Sira’s story and many others that reveal racial profiling and discrimination along Washington’s northern border. Incidents like what happened to Sira demonstrate that immigrants in Washington face similar challenges to those across the nation. Arizona, in particular, has become infamous for its harsh treatment of immigrants, including its passage of Senate Bill 1070, signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in early 2010. The law, which immigrant rights groups, labor unions and civil rights groups agree is profoundly racist and discriminatory in nature, was challenged on its constitutionality and brought to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Supreme Court issued its decision on Monday, June 25th, striking down 3 of 4 major elements but most damagingly, they left in place a discriminatory provision that forces law enforcement to request immigration papers of anyone they suspect might be undocumented. The “Papers, please” provision is under attack by civil rights groups such as the ACLU who claim that it will result in racial profiling and an increased fear of law enforcement. That may result in a decreased level of cooperation between community members and the police on issues of public safety.
The provisions that the justices struck down would have made it a state crime to be non-compliant with federal immigration laws, authorize the arrest of undocumented immigrants without a warrant and forbid undocumented workers to apply or solicit employment or perform work.
Though Arizona is far away, the Supreme Court’s decision is being felt by many in Washington. Immigrants rights, unions, civil rights, and faith groups locally want to build support for federal comprehensive immigration reform in order to put an end to discriminatory laws such as SB 1070 in all states.
“Even without SB 1070 in Washington, taxpaying immigrant families like Sira’s are being singled out” said Adam Glickman-Flora, Vice President of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, a union that represents long term care workers. Many of the union’s workers and clients who receive in-home care are people who belong to immigrant communities.
“The supreme court ruling makes it clear that it is an absolute necessity to mobilize voters and elect people, from the President on down to local city council members who will stand up for civil rights for all in this upcoming election,” Glickman-Flora said. “With a growing numbers of immigrant communities voting across the country in November, we can seize this opportunity to end a hostile this era of discriminatory and hateful policy and replace it with fair and just solutions for all of America.”
(Heather Villanueav is a community organizer for SEIU 1199NW and a member of PSARA.)