Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

SB 1070: A Discussion with Brewer’s Primary Opponent

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When Governor Jan Brewer became vocal about and stood by Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (referred to as the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” after its approval), she catapulted her way into the Republican candidacy for the 2010 gubernatorial election, and most likely, an incumbent landslide victory over Democratic candidate Terry Goddard.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss SB1070 and related issues with Matthew Jette, who ran against Brewer in the Republican primaries. Jette faced harsh opposition from his party members in multiple occasions when he tried to bring some sense and rationality into the undocumented workers’ rights discussion and eventually lost the primaries because he stood by what he knew was right.

Had it been implemented as it was originally drafted, the bill would have made not carrying immigration documents a criminal misdemeanor and would have given state police officials the power to detain people based only on suspicion of their immigrant status and provided them the right to demand proof of holding federal identification papers. My conversation with him presents an interesting look at what SB1070 is really about.

When I asked Jette about the overall state support for the bill (70 percent voter approval rate), he shared that “SB1070 is bad policy and the wrong mechanism in an effort to marginalize and blame a certain group of people for the depressed economy and housing market. […] The people of Arizona are frustrated with a lot of different issues ranging from health care, education, the economy, and housing. [Politicians] using this frustration as a driving force, have rationalized their actions with SB1070.”

In sum, undocumented workers are being used as a scapegoat for Arizona’s larger problems, but as Americas Quarterly’s own Christopher Sabatini recently blogged in a great piece on the evolution of immigration, “despite what the anti-immigrant nativists would have you believe, immigrants—even undocumented immigrants—pay more in taxes than they take out, providing a critical source of new revenue for those soon-to-be retiring baby boomers that threaten to bankrupt our social security system.”

Jette provides further insight on the subject: “Arizona ranks last or near last in many education measurements. Yet, this Governor and others routinely have decreased spending and perpetually under-minded education by investing public dollars into failing charter schools. Arizona ranks last in new job creation nationally and is one of the few states falling further behind in its recovery.” Unfairly, undocumented workers are being blamed for the shortcomings of others.

Now given the focus on racial and ethnic issues that the bill provoked, the majority of Americans failed to understand that besides providing an easy channel for harassment and detainment of Hispanics (documented and undocumented), SB1070 is in reality an attack on the civil liberties of all Americans visiting or residing in Arizona.

When you empower a law enforcement official to detain someone based on nothing more than his perception or suspicion that they might be an unauthorized immigrant, you are de facto throwing presumption of innocence out the window, one of the bastions of the U.S. legal system. Moreover, as Dr. Jette mentioned in our interview “regardless of the language, immigration is a federal issue. A state officer cannot ask for or charge anyone for not carrying federal papers. [Also,] holding individuals for an unspecified amount of time does infringe on one’s civil liberties.” If the citizens of Arizona were keen on these facts, I believe support for SB1070 would dramatically drop.

Fear mongering and ignorance about the effects of SB1070 are not the only things tainting this already controversial piece of legislation. KPHO, a CBS outfit, recently reported on what could be Jan Brewer’s real motivation for supporting the bill. Her Campaign Chairman and Policy Advisor have been linked to lobbying for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which, in turn, has been a campaign supporter for the incumbent governor. CCA is one of the frontrunners in privatizing prison systems.

Jette shares his views on why the CCA has backed Brewer and SB1070: “SB1070 is more about money and corruption than it is about race, security or wasted dollars. Arizona is the only state attempting to privatize their prisons and the CCA is the one entity that would benefit the most with the passing of SB1070. The Correction Corporation of America made a financial contribution to helping Governor Brewer pass Proposition 100 (the 1 cent sales tax increase) and the significance of that rests with the fact that the CCA is the only entity which would house immigration detainees as a result of SB1070.” As it turns out, Brewer (and her team) is in bed with those who stand to win the most out of an increase in arrests (justified or not) stemming from this piece of legislation.

For now the most controversial portions of SB1070 have been put on a leash by District Court Judge Susan Bolton via an injunction, but Brewer has made it very clear that if need be, she is ready to take her appeal through the court system all the way up to the Supreme Court. And when she does, hopefully the US Justices will have the right minds to discard her plights.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.


Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Tags: Immigration Reform, Jan Brewer
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