In what can hardly have been an unintentional mistake, SB 1070 permitted any local police officer to demand identification papers if s/he had "reasonable cause for suspicion" that person might be illegally in the state. Since the Arizona business community, with arrogant impunity, has been growing increasingly dependent on illegal migration to maintain low wage rates in several sectors of the economy, it is now estimated that one out of four Hispanic residents in Arizona is undocumented.
The new law, in effect, was an open invitation for police, with complete legal authority, to stop any Hispanic-looking person at will and demand papers. Although the law stipulated race and language could not be the the only reasons to stop someone, it is hard to imagine any other factor, except a sign on the back announcing illegal status, that might trigger a reasonable suspicion, so the law virtually guaranteed racial profiling combined with denial that racial profiling was taking place. It could not have been better designed to intimidate the 30 percent of Arizona who happen to be Hispanic; in other words it was fundamentally unconstitutional. And to add insult to injury, it does very little to punish the greedy employers who offer the jobs to migrants, so it blatantly plays favoritism to one half of the partnership in crime that occurs whenever an undocumented worker gets a job.
The new clarification backtracks considerably by stipulating that police can only question people about their immigration status if they have already made a legal stop of a person for a non-migration infraction. This is far more consistent with an intent to enforce migration law, rather than to intimidate Hispanics. The new clarification, however, does not alter the half-hearted effort to go after employers. This part of the original bill, left untouched, simply puts firms on probation for three years when convicted of "knowingly" hiring undocumented migrants, and then goes on to explain under what circumstances an employer can claim s/he was "entrapped" into hiring an undocumented worker.
Of course, no one "knowingly" hires undocumented workers, wink, wink. But there is a vast infrastructure of false document production, transportation, contracting, temporary housing, and so on, which serves the interests of those firms--especially the meatpacking industry, hotel services, roofing, construction, restaurants, day laborers, etc.--that rely most on unauthorized workers. But the people running this infrastructure are not demonized, indeed, hardly ever mentioned. Just this year in Tucson ICE officials discovered 5 transportation systems, with ties into Mexico, that serve as shuttle services for migrants to get to labor markets. But there is a long history of politically motivated sabotage of efforts to punish employers and their associates, and it is significant that ICE broke up transportation systems in smaller Tucson, not Phoenix, where the volume of illegal migration is much higher.
When immigration officials raided Vidalia onion farms in 1998, the state's senators and three congressmen, Republicans and Democrats alike, sent an outraged letter complaining the government "does not understand the needs of America's farmers." It worked. When immigration officials tried to audit personnel records at meatpacking plants in Nebraska, Governor Mike Johanns organized a task force to oppose the operation. Meatpackers and ranchers hired former governor Ben Nelson (now US Senator) to lobby on their behalf. Sen. Chuck Hagel pressured the Justice Department. The immigration officer who thought up the operation was forced to retire and illegal hiring continued. For documentation of these cases, read here.
Government enforcement of immigration law, given these political realities, has focused mainly on nabbing unauthorized workers, not their enablers. The news media understands this and goes along. Knowing public sentiment against illegal migration is high, the message is clear: the bad guys are the migrants, and there are 11-12.5 million of them. The employers never hire them "knowingly" and don't you forget it. It is this hypocrisy and, yes, racism, fueled by good old fashioned greed, that has led to the kind of public frustration we see in Arizona.
As long as this imbalance and hypocrisy in enforcement continues among politicians, law enforcement officials, and the news media, demonization of unauthorized workers will continue, and undocumented migrants will continue find jobs.
Arizona state government just tried to slip in an unconstitutional, racially biased law that would have perpetuated the deep unfairness in the way politicians, news media, and others portray the issue of migration; it would have done so at the expense of constitutional rights of 30 percent of the Arizona's population, and in a way that does little to address the demand for illegal migrants, without which there is no cure. Ultimately, the protesting voices of millions of good people willing to make Arizona pay economically, made the legislature back down on the most outrageous element in this bill.
But enforcement of immigration law at the national as well as state level continues to be unbalanced, and as long as it remains that way the flow of undocumented migration will continue. I don't think the country is one bit closer to an honest debate about what kind of a nation of immigrants we want to be. But at least protesters have made it less likely we will be heading in an Arizona direction.