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Chapters Fight ‘Arizona-Style’ Provisions

‘Legislation Like This Promotes Hate, Racism and Injustice’

Arizona’s State Bill 1070, signed into law in April 2010, contained provisions of deep concern to NASW and its members. At the national and chapter levels, opposition to these “Arizona-style” provisions regarding immigration status reflects the stated ethics and commitments of social workers and the association as a whole.

Individual members and chapters leaders have a number of tools available to help them prevent passage of such legislation and to make the case, with other organizations, for legislative fairness and effectiveness. Three NASW chapters in particular are engaging in their states’ political process to block what are sometimes called “illegal immigration” or “anti-immigration” laws.

Background. “Arizona-style immigration legislation” contains provisions that put additional pressure on both police officers and human services workers to identify and report immigrants who have entered the country without proper documentation. Two controversial provisions in particular include:

  • Requiring police to stop anyone who gives the appearance of being a potential undocumented immigrant and in some cases, to arrest them without a warrant.
  • Requiring human services workers to report clients and patients who give “reasonable” indications of being undocumented.

Similar legislation has passed in a growing number of states. The Migration Policy Institute’s Kathleen Newland said that in just the past six years, 6,600 similar bills have been introduced and 838 were enacted. Twenty-four states currently have such legislation pending.

A guiding principle of NASW’s work on immigration policy is to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform that promotes social justice and avoids discrimination or profiling on the basis of race, religion, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation.

On its website, NASW outlines concerns about Arizona-style legislation: Permitting police to stop someone based on appearance threatens to increase discrimination and racial profiling, thereby eroding civil rights, along with public trust in police and public safety officers. In addition, immigrants who are victims of a crime may fear contacting the police, fearing they will be arrested themselves.

An increasing number of immigrants are being arrested, detained, and deported due to these state laws as well as agreements between local police departments and the Department of Homeland Security under a set of programs called ICE ACCESS.

“One of many tragic outcomes of these laws is that parents are being separated from their children,” said Amy Bess, senior practice associate in NASW’s human rights and international affairs office. “Focusing on ways to keep families together is an important component of the immigration policy work done by NASW. Many parents who are detained and deported have U.S. citizen children. These laws effectively end up creating a class of highly vulnerable U.S. citizen children inside our own borders,” Bess said.

Newland pointed out that “a hodgepodge of state and local laws is a recipe for confusion among migrants and local businesses about which rules to follow. There’s a real question whether these laws can achieve their objective, which is a more orderly immigration process.”

Like NASW, Newland observed that many laws generate a climate of fear in migrant communities and undermine cooperation with community services. “This becomes a problem of civic integration for the community as a whole.”

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