At Supreme Court, Arizona Leaves Affected Voices at Home: Q & A With Carlos Garcia, Puente Human Rights Advocate

While Gov. Jan Brewer unceremoniously dumped her disgraced SB 1070 partner Russell Pearce from Arizona's front seats at tomorrow's historic Supreme Court hearing on the state's controversial immigration law, the seminal voices of those most affected by Arizona's punitive measures will remain in the shadows -- and unheard, even in the landslide of media and political forums sure to follow.

In effect, as legal experts battle over the ramifications of states' rights and immigration jurisdiction, and political pundits range the arpeggio of opinions on racial profiling, criminalization of immigration without proper papers, and SB 1070's "attrition by enforcement" approach that has struck a nerve with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the legions of undocumented laborers propping up Arizona's fragile economic recovery in tourism, construction and agriculture have largely been cut out of the national discussion on the state's landmark immigration showdown.

Are immigrants, in the words of Puente Arizona director Carlos Garcia, "political footballs that politicians on both sides kick around to score points for their own reelection"?

At a Democratic-controlled congressional hearing today, for example, New York Sen. Charles Schumer railed on Arizona's rogue ways, while entertaining the anti-federal testimony of Pearce -- the self-proclaimed architect of SB 1070, who became the first senate president in US history to be recalled last fall -- along with former US Sen. Dennis DeConcini, a political relic who serves on the board of the Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison firm that stands to gain at the explosion of incarceration among undocumented entries, and Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform, and state Sen. Steve Gallardo, a rising Latino political star.

Even with undocumented immigration plummeting, Arizona's draconian law, if upheld, jeopardizes an estimated $48.8 billion in economic power, according to a study by the Center for American Progress last year.

For immigrant rights advocates like Carlos Garcia, director of the Phoenix-based Puente human rights organization that advocates for migrant justice, something even more is at risk: the core values of our American constitution and ways.

A couple of thousands of miles away from the Supreme Court chambers, Puente will lead protests tomorrow in Phoenix, along with other national efforts in support of immigrant rights.

I caught up with Garcia by email and asked him a few questions on how he views the proceedings in Washington, D.C., and back at home on Arizona's immigration frontlines.

Jeff Biggers: At a Ccngressional hearing on SB 1070 today, former Sen. Russell Pearce addressed Arizona's legislation, along with former US Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., Arizona state Sen. Steve Gallardo, and Todd Landfried, executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. How do you think a testimony from an undocumented day laborer would have added to the hearing, in terms of daily realities and impacts of SB 1070?

Carlos Garcia: The voices that need to be heard in the SB 1070 debate are those of the people directly placed in the bill's crosshairs. Our community is tired of being a political football that politicians on both sides kick around to score points for their own reelection. In the neighborhoods of Phoenix and across the state, immigrant communities are organizing to defend and advance their rights in ways that will benefit the entire country. When you defend the rights of those at the bottom, you lift everyone with you. When you defend the rights of anyone else, you leave someone behind. Immigrants are not valuable simply because we grow the crops in this country. Hearing from those on the front line would add the value of recognizing immigrants' humanity and our capacity of visionaries who under the hardest of circumstances are rescuing democracy and justice from agents of intolerance in the state.

JB: Last week, AZ Dream Act leader Dulce Matuz nudged Gov. Jan Brewer off Time magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People. While SB 1070 arguably galvanized several copycat bills in other state legislatures like Alabama, how do you think Puente's and NDLON's work -- and others on immigrant rights, such as the AZ Dreamers -- have inspired and influenced more equitable human rights and immigration approaches in other communities and states?

CG: What happens in Arizona spreads. The state is both a laboratory for the far-right as well as an incubator of this generation's vibrant human rights movement. The states who considered and turned away from copying SB 1070 did so because they saw the toll our boycotts and mobilizations have had on the state and they didn't want to invite the same embarrassment. Two years ago, we said 'the best way to support Arizona is to fight the places where police are being enlisted as immigration officers in your own towns.' Since that call, hundreds of campaigns have been born challenging Arizonification and turning the tide from hate to human rights.

JB: If a jornalero -- day worker -- had her or his day in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, as opening statements are heard from Arizona representatives on SB 1070, what would she or he tell Chief Justice John Roberts about the law's impact on racial profiling?

CG: SB 1070 creates a moral dilemma for all of us. On an individual and institutional level, we cannot comply with the hate that the bill represents. If they come for day laborers in the morning, they will come for the judges in the evening. This country has accepted the erosion of its own rights in the name of anti-immigrant causes. As a result, the very people who are being told we are not welcome in the US are those who are defending its core values and constitutional rights.

In Arizona, Sheriff Arpaio has used federal immigration programs to carry out the "worst racial profiling" that Department of Justice investigators have ever personally witnessed. We have come too far to allow Sheriffs or state laws judge people by the color of their skin. It's the Supreme Court's duty to keep our hard-fought rights from being turned backwards. But if the court fails its responsibility, it will be the day laborers and humble people of the state of Arizona who will ensure Arizona sees a better day. For us, the jury is already in. SB 1070 and similar federal programs need to be struck down.

JB: Last year, when Angelica Hernandez graduated from ASU as valedictorian of her mechanical engineering school as an undocumented youth, Matuz asked national leaders: "Do we want an engineering leader to leave this country? Do we want that innovator to solve the energy crisis in China." If the Supreme Court upholds Arizona's immigration law and "attrition through enforcement" approach, what do you think Arizona the US will lose in terms of immigrant innovators and workforce, and our overall economy?

CG: Attrition through enforcement is by definition a politics of misery. It's impact is to make conditions so miserable that people will laughably 'self-deport.' Besides being 'nazi-like,' as Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles described SB 1070, there is another problem with the authors' strategy. As prejudiced as Russell Pearce and other champions of SB 1070 may be, the misery they wish to inflict doesn't discriminate. It impacts everyone and drags the country in the wrong direction.

JB: The national media is finally focusing on the punitive elements of border and immigration security measures, as witnessed with the tragic death of Anastasio Rojas at the hands of the US Border Patrol. How do you see the punitive measures of SB 1070 adding to such a human rights crisis?

CG: When they passed SB 1070, its authors declared a war of attrition on immigrants where "undocumented people are treated as criminals and Latinos are treated as suspects." But as the Department of Justice concluded in their investigation into Arpaio, that was already the reality we lived in the state. Not one person has been deported as a result of SB 1070. The bill amplifies and normalizes a climate of hate generated from the federal government's collaboration with Sheriffs like Arpaio through the Administrations deportation programs.

The Department of Homeland Security keeps setting fires that the Department of Justice repeatedly gets called to put out. Arizona's human rights crisis could be solved by the president with a stroke of a pen. Instead the administration sues states like Arizona for passing immigration policies, and then replicates the state's model through its own programs like Secure Communities.

You cannot legalize immigrants while criminalizing the immigrant community. Until the federal government abandons the failed experiment of enlisting police as 'force multipliers' in immigration and begins earnest efforts to provide legalization, the human rights crisis in the state and across the country is bound to deepen.

JB: According to the latest Department of Homeland Security data, undocumented entry into Arizona has dropped dramatically in the last two years. How would you describe daily life for undocumented immigrants in Arizona's post-SB 1070 period since 2010?

CG: Life in Arizona for undocumented immigrants since SB 1070 passed is a combination of basic survival under a climate of hate and inspiring organizing that will one day turn hate to love.

JB: With nearly 50,000 Latinos reaching voting age every month in the US, and Arizona in particular undergoing a demographic shift among an aging Anglo population and a fast growing Latino youth population, do you think we'll see a Latino governor in Arizona in the next decade? Can you imagine SB 1070 being overturned by a different AZ governor and state legislature in the near future?

CG: We're ready for a new day in Arizona. Governor Brewer, Russell Pearce, and Sheriff Arpaio will be shamed by history -- whether it is by the Supreme Court's decision or through our mobilizing. The children of immigrants persecuted today will grow up to be tomorrow's voters and they will remember how their parents were treated and will not look lightly on these times. The arc of history bends towards justice and we will bring dignity back to this state.