History teaches that victory has been achieved when the letter and spirit of a conflict are united in the resolution of that conflict. In the case of yesterday’s injunction against SB-1070, Arizona’s highly conflictive racial profiling law, the letter of the law was, at best, partially and temporarily halted, not defeated. Its spirit lives on in Arizona and throughout the country. Judge Bolton brought no resolution to the discrimination unleashed by the parts of still-discriminatory law that will take effect today. Far from celebrating the “victory” touted by some, today’s marches and protests throughout the country are unified in delivering another message: that the work of defeating the spirit and letter of SB-1070 must and will continue in Arizona, in Washington and throughout the country.
More than anything, yesterday’s injunction against the “most controversial” parts of SB-1070 did not so much end Arizona’s immigration conflict as begin a new, more national phase of the war on immigrants in Arizona and across the United States.
Viewed from the perspective of those of us demanding an end to this war, temporarily halting the most extreme elements of SB-1070-criminalizing people without documentation, criminalizing undocumented people seeking work and authorizing law enforcement to racially profile and arrest people who look ‘reasonably suspect” of not having papers- is good in a partial and temporary way; Eviscerating what remains of the law is even better; Ending the irrational and dangerous war on immigrants that informs SB-1070 is, by far, the best way to defeat the spirit and letter under girding this unjust and absurd law.
While much of the credit for miring Arizona and the country in the spirit and letter of SB 1070’s absurdity belongs to extremists and the politicians like Governor Jan Brewer who listen to them, another part of the responsibility actually belongs to one of the plaintiffs suing Brewer’s Arizona- the Obama Administration. While we should recognize the role of the Obama Administration in joining one of the many legal challenges to SB-1070, we must also recognize that the immigration policies of the Administration- policies like the 287g and Secure Communities programs- actually make possible both SB-1070 and the discriminatory practices of officials like Maricopa Sheriff Arpaio. In this sense, the Obama Administration is a ‘frenemy’ of SB-1070, friendly to the point of continuing and expanding Bush-era policies that brought about SB-1070, enemy who sues parts of a law that his own administration helped create.
Despite predictable efforts of both Obama and his allies on the center-right flank of the immigrant rights movement to paint the injunction as a “victory” for the Administration, other, less unconditionally Democrat-leaning members of the immigrant rights movement are stepping up pressure on the Administration to abolish programs that make Obama the Commander-in-Chief of the war on immigrants. Out-of the-Beltway groups like the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Latino Congreso and others have consistently and loudly sounded the alarm about failed federal programs that give birth to state programs that, in turn, do nothing to mitigate the crisis in what we all agree is a failed immigration system. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has ignored constant and growing demands for him to do away with some of the primary causes of the SB-1070 absurdity. In the words of an editorial in today’s New York Times, “The Obama administration has resisted calls to abolish the (287g and Secure Communities) programs, despite warnings of racial profiling arrests on pretexts and other abuses.”
Until the President acts decisively to eradicate these programs at the root of the SB-1070 problem plaguing the country, activists should and will continue actions-protests, boycotts, vigils, and other community based actions-that will increasingly target not just Arizona, not just Janet Brewer, but also Washington and Obama. Had he looked out his window yesterday, Obama probably would have seen a protest in front of the White House, a protest led by an army of children demanding that he and the heavily-armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents under his command stop separating, destroying and terrorizing their immigrant families at the record-breaking pace of more than 1000 deportations per day. Such a record only adds injury to the insult felt by many Latinos who polls tell us are growing disillusioned with Obama this election year.
Without a fundamental and forceful shift in his immigration policies, Obama’s slide Latinos will suffer even swifter declines this election year. The Obama Administration’s participation in one of several lawsuits against a an unjust state law contrasts unfavorably with his continuation and expansion of both the unjust federal racial profiling laws and the multi-billion dollar complex that persecutes and prosecutes, jails and deports hundreds of thousands of immigrants. If he is to truly end the war on immigrants, if we are to declare a “victory” over SB-1070 and other laws imitating it, the letter of President Obama’s immigration policies must match the spirit of his oft-made commitment to immigrants and immigration reform.