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Rep. Grijalva Calls for Federal Non-Cooperation with Controversial AZ Immigration Bill

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Outrage is growing over the passage of a controversial new measure in Arizona that forces police officers to determine the immigration status of someone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. We speak with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), who is urging federal non-cooperation with the new law and is calling for a targeted economic boycott of Arizona. We also speak with Sunita Patel, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is filing a lawsuit demanding records related to ICE’s little known “Secure Communities” program. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Outrage is growing over the passage of a controversial new measure in Arizona that forces police officers to determine the immigration status of someone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant. Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill on Friday following its approval in the state legislature earlier in the week. Opponents call it the harshest anti-immigrant measure in the country and a license for racial profiling. Shortly after adding her signature, Brewer said she thought the measure is, quote, “what’s best for Arizona.”

At the White House, President Obama denounced the bill and suggested the federal government could intervene.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Indeed our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation. But if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more on this bill, Arizona Democratic Congress member Raúl Grijalva joins us from Capitol Hill. At a protest this weekend, Congressman Grijalva urged federal non-cooperation with the new law.

Welcome to Democracy Now! What exactly do you mean, Congressman Grijalva, “federal non-cooperation”?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, first of all, I think — I’m very appreciative, many of us are appreciative, of the President’s comments, right upon the signature of this legislation, to look at the civil rights and the constitutional implications, which we feel that this legislation is patently unconstitutional.

What we feel — the point about non-cooperation is the next step. You know, immigration is a federal law, and if we are asking the President for him not to cooperate in the implementation of this law through Homeland Security, through Border Patrol, through detention, and a non-cooperative stance by the United States government and the federal agencies, would render much of this legislation moot and ineffective.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Congress member Grijalva, can you explain exactly what does this law do?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, it’s a license to racially profile. It creates a second-class status for primarily Latinos and people of color in the state of Arizona. And what it does is it says to local law enforcements, you now have the power to, on reasonable suspicion, based on — primarily on somebody’s — based on appearance, to stop, demand papers, demand citizenship, demand information. And if that person cannot — does not have it with them, then that person is then arrested and faces up to $500 fine for not having the proper documentation with he or she.

The other part, there’s are other parts that — in other legislation, which is to require school teachers to become immigration officers and keep a list of potentially undocumented kids, for schools to keep data on potentially undocumented children in their schools, another clear violation of federal protection.

This is — you know, Arizona has been the petri dish for these kinds of harsh, racist initiatives. Our border is practically militarized. The pincher effect of forcing people into the desert and to Arizona to cross has been going on since 1994. The National Guard at the border, now it’s being asked for again. All those have happened in Arizona, and this harsh legislation is another example. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. It’s been a part of a national strategy. What you can get away with in Arizona then becomes the harbinger for other things in other states. It is a very dangerous precedent. We believe it’s unconstitutional, and it has to be fought on a political, legal and an economic level.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you support an economic boycott of Arizona, of your state, Congressman Grijalva?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yeah, I support some very targeted economic sanctions on the state of Arizona. We will be asking national organizations, civic, religious, political organizations, not to have conferences and conventions in the state of Arizona, that there has to be an economic consequence to this action and to this legislation. And good organizations across this country, decent organizations that agree with us that this bill is patently racist, that it is unconstitutional, and it’s harsh, it’s unjust, that they should refrain from bringing their business to the state. It’s very targeted on conventions, and it’s very targeted on national conferences that would come to the state.

But when Jan Brewer signed it, she sent the state of Arizona into an economic black hole, that one convention not coming to Arizona is minuscule compared to her signature. Tourism is going to suffer. Import-export is going to suffer, a potential loss of up to $700,000,000 tax dollars from immigrants that work in the state. With her signature, she’s caused an already distressed economy in Arizona to sink deeper and deeper into a hole.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And your office has received some threats, some death threats? You were forced to close your Tucson office, is that correct?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yeah, we closed it last Friday. The threats became particularly dangerous. Federal agencies responded, police agencies. We understand that the person that made the threats is being questioned, and we’ll see what happens with that. But, you know, it was one of those discretion being the better part of valor. Most of these are idle threats, and we tend to ignore them. But these were particularly vile. And, you know, people come to our offices in Arizona for services and the good people that work in our offices, you know, sometimes it’s better to err on the side of caution, and that’s what we did.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m curious, Congressman Grijalva, what do police in Arizona feel about this law? This means also a lot more work for them.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: There has been, other than Sheriff Arpaio, who helped cheerlead this law in Maricopa County, the Sheriff of Santa Cruz County, that’s on the border, has publicly, before the vote, and even now, opposed it, Sheriff Estrada. The Sheriff of Pima County has opposed it. Police chiefs have opposed it. And rank-and-file police officers, in my conversations with them, they feel that they have just been handcuffed, for lack of a better expression, in being able to do the kinds of intelligence community work that is required and to get the public to come forth in order to keep some of the neighborhoods safe. They feel this is now an additional impediment and a barrier on trust that they need very desperately to do their job.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, while the passage of the new law in Arizona has been widely decried, the number of programs involving collaboration between ICE — that’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement — and local and state police across the nation is continuing to grow.

Today, the National Day Laborer Network, the Immigrant Justice Clinic of the Benjamin Cardozo Law School, and the Center for Constitutional Rights are filing a lawsuit demanding records related to ICE’s little known “Secure Communities” program. The program further embroils local and state law enforcement agencies in federal immigration enforcement and is already operating in 168 jurisdictions in twenty states.

AMY GOODMAN: Advocates warn that more agreements are anticipated in the coming days and say Secure Communities require police to run individual fingerprints through multiple databases upon arrest, even if no charges are brought and regardless of how minor the charges are.

We, in addition to Congressman Grijalva, are joined by the person at the Center for Constitutional Rights in Washington, DC, who is taking on this case, Sunita Patel, staff attorney at CCR.

Welcome to Democracy Now! What is the story here, Sunita?

SUNITA PATEL: Thank you for having me.

First, the story here is that Secure Communities is very similar to 287(g) and Criminal Alien Program, both of which have been overwhelmingly criticized in the public, in the media, and even by the government itself. What we see in Arizona is a culmination of these types of programs where immigration duties are divested to local law enforcement agencies. And they really must be stopped.

Today, we have filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding information and records related to Secure Communities and its relationship to these other programs. Also today, there is the launch of a national coordinated week of action called Uncovering the Truth, around local law enforcement and ICE collaboration efforts. There will be events in several cities. I think we’re up to ten or eleven cities, with different types of actions, community education events, releases of reports. We really hope that we can raise the profile of these disastrous and dangerous programs.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And can you explain a little more about what the Secure Communities program actually does? How does it further link local law enforcement with federal immigration policy?

SUNITA PATEL: Well, what it does is it allows the local law enforcement agencies to check not only the FBI databases, which they’ve traditionally always done, it also allows them to sync up with immigration databases, which are notoriously unreliable because of errors with the data entry, because they just have incorrect information on citizenship status. And so, what happens is you have — in the first year, we had a million people go through the system. Of those, 5,900 were — about 5,900 were US citizens, and there were thousands and thousands of green card holders that were put through the program. And so, what happens is you go through this program, then ICE is contacted, and they may authorize the law enforcement agency to issue what’s called a “detainer” and prevent the release of the individual. And so you have this very broad net being cast.

And the program is set to be in every state by 2011 and in every jail by 2013. And even though this is an enormous program, there is very little known publicly about it. There is very little available to all of us. And so that is why CCR and NDLON [National Day Laborer Organization Network] and Cardozo Law Clinic decided to file suit to get this information. There’s an urgent need for information related to this program, so that law enforcement agencies and local government officials can make the right choices and make the right decisions about the program.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Congress member Grijalva back into this in the Capitol Rotunda. Going bigger, to federal immigration reform, you pushed hard to include a public option. Progressives did not get any concession there from President Obama. What do you expect to see from him here?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, you know, what happened in Arizona should be an urgency. And I want to tell the people at the Center that the FOIA request is very important. We’ve been focused on 287(g) and the abuses there, and I think this information will be critical to finally analyzing what the real role is with regard to immigration enforcement in the states and in local communities.

We have to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We have to undo this law in Arizona. They’re linked, but they’re not mutual, in the sense that, one fight and another fight. What I expect is comprehensive reform. And if it continues to be a discussion in which the primary focus is going to be enforcement, enforcement, security, and no real path to legalization, which is critical to comprehensive reform to deal with the undocumented that are here, then I think we’re going to be spinning our wheels.

And we’re talking about not getting the public option in healthcare, I think it’s a great comparison, Amy, in the sense that if there is no path to legalization that begins to deal with the reality of people here, then I think that we’re going to be spinning our wheels. We’re going to end up with something that is watered down, that it will not deal with the problem that we’re having in Arizona and won’t deal with the problem we’re having in communities across this nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Raúl Grijalva, thank you very much for joining us from the Capitol Rotunda, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


AMY GOODMAN: And Sunita Patel, staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, also joining us from DC.

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