In a state where it's legal to walk in public with a gun slung over the shoulder, where hard-line politicians have the majority vote, and a tough-guy sheriff (Joe Arpaio) makes public appearances on national TV saying, "Lock 'em up," it shouldn't have surprised anyone when SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration bill, was signed into law last April.
The surprise came from the public outcries, the protests, the lawsuits—and from the mad rush to decipher the complicated law and prepare police to enforce it, beginning July 29, the day it was to take effect.
After signing the bill into law, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer immediately issued an executive order for the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST) to develop a video training program that would help law enforcement implement new policy statewide.
"We had 90 days...to deliver it," says AZ POST Director Lyle Mann, whose agency mailed out 600 copies of the DVD at the end of June to 168 state law enforcement agencies. He and his staff were dealing with a law that amended or added to Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) already on the books and included provisions that would, among other things:
_Require police officers to check immigration status in instances where they didn't have to in the past.
_Make it a crime to be in Arizona illegally or to be without legal registration papers.
_Make it a crime to smuggle human beings into Arizona.
_Make it a crime to work in Arizona if here illegally.
_Make it a crime to transport or harbor illegal aliens.
Complaints poured in: the laws were unnecessary, many were already covered by federal law; some of the laws were unconstitutional and could violate a person's civil rights; and most hurtful to the Latino community, which felt oppressed by SB 1070, the laws appeared to encourage racial profiling—against them, the majority of known illegal immigrants in Arizona.
On the day she signed the bill into law, Gov. Brewer stated outright, "I will not tolerate racial discrimination or racial profiling in Arizona." But Phoenix Chief of Police Jack Harris, who also heads up the Arizona Association of Chiefs, went on record, opposing the law, anyway, calling it "divisive." In fact, the new law also included a provision allowing legal residents of Arizona to sue police officials or agencies that limited or restricted the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
"If you're looking for criminals, we have those laws already," says Tony Estrada, sheriff of Santa Cruz County, whose agency works daily with federal immigration officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBC) when suspects are arrested and booked into jail and need immigration status verified.
"A small agency like ours doesn't have the resources to do the job of the immigration officer. We partner. We intercept. But we do not actively look for illegals...and this law, as it is written," Sheriff Estrada says, "focuses on one race. The state wants them identified, arrested and deported...Mexico is not the enemy."
Estrada is speaking from experience. His Arizona office sits inside an American border town called Nogales. Its closest neighbor is the Mexican town with the same name on the other side of the checkpoint. Up to 40,000 people cross the checkpoint, back and forth, every day, he says. They visit relatives, shop, go to work. They've been doing this for decades.
It's not uncommon for Estrada's officers to find 20-30 bodies out in the nearby desert, bodies of those who did not survive the promise of a better life in the United States. Instead, heat exhaustion and thirst take them down, their smugglers who bring them in through the gaps of the unfinished border fence in the far reaches of the isolated desert, leave them behind to die. Estrada, who believes those who come here to earn an honest living should be left alone, and makes no bones about the new law: "This is a nightmare...for extended family, for relatives, for law enforcement...I'm not for illegal immigration. But I'm a realist."