Click to play video Terry Greene Sterling on the people in her book 'Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone'

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Arizona lawmaker to Latino journos: “Illegal” Canadians can stay because they have money.
Arizona lawmaker to Latino journos: “Illegal” Canadians can stay because they have money.
DSC 0249 ALMA 300 Arizona lawmaker  to Latino journos: “Illegal” Canadians can stay because they have money.

On June 25, in Phoenix, I was honored to participate in a panel sponsored by the Arizona Latino Media Association.  The other panelists included Nancy-Jo Merritt, a longtime Phoenix immigration attorney; Antonio Bustamante, an activist and attorney who grew up on the border, and John Kavanagh, the legislator who sponsored the House version of SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law. The panel was moderated by New Times journalist Monica Alonzo.

Honestly, you could talk about SB 1070 for ten hours and still have things to talk about.

It’s a law that requires all police officers in Arizona to enforce immigration law, and if they don’t, their employers, taxpayer-funded cities, towns, counties and the state itself, are open to citizen lawsuits.

The law requires all Arizona cops who stop, detain, or arrest people they “reasonably suspect” of being in the country illegally to ask for papers and,  if no papers exist, to check immigration status. The catch is, the cops can stop, detain or arrest for anything from murder to the violation of an obscure town ordinance.

Lawyers say the “harboring” and “transporting” aspect of the law can criminalize US citizens who,  in the act of living with, lunching with, driving with, praying with or (doing just about anything else with)  a person they know to be undocumented, happen to violate a traffic law or a city ordinance. That could include taking your undocumented mother to the grocery store, or driving your nana to the cardiologist’s office. Tony Bustamonte noted, forcefully, that a good many American citizens of Latino descent have friends or relatives who don’t have papers.

And then, of course, critics of the law worry that it will encourage racial profiling of brown-skinned U.S. citizens, and there are cases winding through the courts to prove that.

Many light-skinned Anglos don’t see what the big fuss is — hey, the cops are just enforcing a law that mirrors federal immigration law.

But legal experts say part of the federal immigration law that is “mirrored” is an obscure World War II era code that requires aliens to carry registration cards.

Japanese American citizens interred in the camps remember this code well.

During the panel discussion, a lively audience and the panelists tackled SB 1070 from a number of different angles — the morality of it, historical context, how it may be carried out, efforts to stop it, its legality, and, in the view of many, its racism.

At one point, Nancy-Jo Merritt noted that many of her undocumented clients are Canadians.

A spirited discussion ensued.

Rep. Kavanagh announced that “illegals” who were Canadians could “stay” in Arizona because they have money and buy real estate.

Then he said, several times, that he was just kidding.

What’s the matter, can’t anyone take a joke these days?

DSC 0255 ALMA 300 Arizona lawmaker  to Latino journos: “Illegal” Canadians can stay because they have money.