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Jeannie Camarillo and Amy Phillips, Published May 08 2010

Immigration law erodes human rights

In a frightening display of racism and xenophobia, the state of Arizona has just unfolded a series of legislative and educational measures designed to harass and punish people due to their cultural heritage and language. The first, and most publicized, of these measures is Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which is now the harshest immigration bill in the country.

It subjects an individual to proving her immigration status if, for example, she is stopped for driving with a tail light out and if the police officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that she is in the country illegally. Since the law is unclear about the criteria for “reasonable suspicion,” and since the vast majority of immigrants in Arizona are from Latin America, the bill will no doubt increase racial profiling of Latinos. Groups and individuals as disparate as the American Civil Liberties Union, Sen. Lindsey Graham, President Barack Obama and Karl Rove have all denounced the law.

Almost simultaneous to the immigration bill, Arizona legislators passed House Bill 2281, which prohibits public and charter schools from offering instruction “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and which “advocate(s) ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

The Arizona superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, has said that the bill is aimed specifically at ending the Tucson Unified School District’s ethnic studies curriculum, which, because of the predominance of Latino students, has a strong Mexican-American cultural emphasis.

In addition, the Arizona Department of Education has begun removing teachers from classes when it decides that the teachers’ spoken English is too heavily accented (“Arizona Grades Teachers on Fluency,” Wall Street Journal, April 30).

Not only do the Arizona measures reflect clear cases of racial discrimination, but they also represent an erosion of basic human rights. This erosion should be of concern to North Dakotans and to all Americans. When legislators prevent Mexican American youth from learning about and celebrating their cultural heritage, it is just a matter of time before that right is taken away from children of other groups.

When a person’s accent can determine his or her right to a job, then it is just a matter of time before those of us with other personal characteristics begin to lose our employment rights. And when local law enforcement can demand proof of citizenship in the context of a minor traffic or city ordinance violation, we have all lost the right to live in a country that supports “liberty and justice for all.”


Camarillo, Fargo, and Phillips, Grand Forks, are board members

of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition.