PHOENIX, Ariz. ––A judge has blocked for now parts of a controversial law that made it a state crime for a person to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona. The news brought relief to thousands of families who were waiting until the last minute to decide whether to leave the state. But the ruling won’t change what has made Arizona one of the most hostile environments for immigrants in the nation.
At the heart of SB 1070 is a concept that has been the cornerstone for a slew of laws enacted over the years, making life harder and harder for immigrants.
It’s called attrition through enforcement.
The preamble of SB 1070 states the concept clearly: “The legislature finds that there is a compelling interest in the cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws throughout all of Arizona. The legislature declares that the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.”
The very definition of attrition is a wearing down or weakening of resistance. GOP State Senator Russell Pearce, the mastermind behind SB 1070, has never made it a secret that this was his goal: to make the lives of undocumented immigrants in Arizona so difficult that they would have no other choice but to leave.
His supporters, including former Maricopa County chief prosecutor Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio–have recognized that fear is an essential part of the strategy. They have used it to its fullest extent by taking state laws created to fight smugglers and unlawful employers and turning them against immigrants.
In three years, Arpaio’s deputies have arrested 4,000 undocumented immigrants. Some would argue that is a drop in the bucket, given that an estimated 460,000 undocumented immigrants reside in the state. But fear has magnified those numbers, prompting many thousands of other immigrants to flee Arizona for friendlier places.
The exodus of undocumented immigrants and their families began long before the passage of SB 1070. A first wave came in response to Prop. 200, a measure to deny social services to undocumented immigrants, which was put on the ballot in 2004 by Protect Arizona Now, a group led by Pearce.
Later, it was Arpaio’s raids that drove immigrants away. They left behind shuttered storefronts, empty apartment complexes Â and classrooms.
Most recently, attrition took effect through an employer-sanctions law that went into effect in 2007. Signed by then-governor Janet Napolitano–now head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–it resulted in many companies firing their undocumented employees or workers leaving to avoid arrest.
Before Pearce was catapulted into international recognition as the force behind SB 1070, he was already the front man behind anti-illegal-immigrant legislation in Arizona. Back in 2003, then-Representative Pearce often stood alone in the battle to have law enforcement reject the use of Mexican consular cards as a form of ID. He failed in that attempt.
Fast-forward to 2006, when Pearce made his first attempt at something like SB 1070. He pushed through a bill that would have made it a crime to trespass into state lands. Napolitano vetoed it.
But Pearce and other anti-immigrant activists won many battles through more modest pieces of legislation.
At first, undocumented immigrants worried about getting fined for driving without a license in Arizona. Soon they risked having their vehicle impounded. In Arizona today, most undocumented immigrants know that getting behind the wheel could put them on the fast track to deportation.
Under Arizona law, even victims of domestic violence can’t have access to state-funded English or GED classes if they are undocumented immigrants. Parents are questioned when applying for state health care benefits for their U.S. citizen children; if they volunteer information to a caseworker that indicates they are in the U.S. illegally, they are reported to ICE.
Immigrants in Arizona who are smuggled or kidnapped are prosecuted. Thanks to a 2006 ballot measure, those who are jailed for working with false documents or accused of having a false drivers license are denied bail.
Arizona didn’t get to this place on its own. Stricter border enforcement has made the state the battleground that it is today. When the federal government sealed the border in California and Texas, Arizona–despite its forbidding desert– became the main gateway for illegal immigration into the U.S.
What’s more, federal policies have helped local law enforcement become de facto immigration agents. Â In February 2007, conservative lawmakers scored a victory when Arpaio’s office signed a memorandum of understanding with DHS known as 287(g). The program allowed for 160 deputies to be trained in the enforcement of immigration laws on the streets and in jails.
The training opened the door for controversial immigration sweeps on Latino neighborhoods that resulted in hundreds of people being pulled over for minor infractions such as broken taillights and cracked windshields.
While public figures such as Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon denounced the arrests as a violation of civil rights, ICE said Arpaio was enforcing the law appropriately. In October 2009, in the midst of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into racial profiling, ICE rescinded part of the agreement.
The response–in the form of a political front led by Arpaio, Pearce, and then-prosecutor Thomas, who’s now running to be the state’s attorney general– came quickly. They announced that they would draft a bill that would make it a crime to trespass into state territory, would target day laborers looking for work on the streets, and would ban “sanctuary policies.” This last term refers to local jurisdictions that restrict contact with immigration authorities when police detain someone for a minor offense or work with crime victims and witnesses.
The three men threatened to send the bill to Arizona voters. “The feds have been absent, and now they took it a step farther by refusing to let other people do their jobs,” Pearce declared at a press conference in October. Pearce, like Arpaio, believes local police have the inherent authority to enforce federal immigration laws. But he knew he would face opposition in pushing that idea.
That was the beginning of the fight for SB 1070.
In her temporary injunction issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked enforcement of several portions of the law. She wrote that the United States was likely to “suffer irreparable harm” if she allowed those sections to take effect.
But some would argue it’s much too late. The premise of SB 1070–attrition through enforcement–has been the law of Arizona for years. As Arpaio sets off on new waves of immigration raids despite Bolton’s ruling, many immigrant families would says that the “irreparable harm” has already taken place.