Response to Ariz. Immigration Bill

Immigration policy, a prominent figure in current state and national politics, has found a significant campus voice in a recent series of student events. Opposition and education efforts have drowned any student support for Arizona’s controversial immigration law, the strictest in the country.

After passage by Arizona’s legislature, Senate Bill 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in late April of this year.  The act allows state law enforcement officials to enforce existing federal law requiring immigrants to carry registration documentation. Under the act, law enforcement has been given the authority to ask anyone thought to be in Arizona illegally for registration documentation whenever “reasonable suspicion” exists.

The legislation’s critics have denounced the vagueness of the bill’s language and argue that it encourages racial profiling; advocates argue that the bill simply enforces existing federal law.  Boycotts led by many professional organizations and municipalities as well as questions over the act’s constitutionality have placed the bill at the forefront of national politics.

Stanford students have reacted to the bill, organizing awareness efforts through various events. MEChA de Stanford (MEChA), one of Stanford’s student groups leading the charge to address issues of the Latino/Chicano community, coordinated a campus-wide “Bringing Home the Border” event in collaboration with the Stanford Immigrant Rights Project (SIRP) and numerous other student groups.

The event, which took place May 20, aimed to educate the Stanford community about immigration issues through creative activities, including a public forum, artwork, poetry, and dance.  Stanford workers, students, and Spoken Word Collective members contributed to discussions with personal, spoken performances. Co-sponsoring student groups also set up booths in the Old Union Courtyard, providing information about a diversity of social issues and inviting students to support group goals.

Prior to “Bringing Home the Border,” MEChA also coordinated a night Vigil in White Plaza, offering individuals the opportunity to share personal experiences and to express sentiments related to the Arizona bill. Aracely Mondragon, MEChA co-chair, stated that the goal of the event was to increase awareness regarding the bill because “immigration is a universal issue that affects everyone.”

As candles were lit and supporters formed a tight-knit circle, one participant who would indentify herself only as Viviana, expressed that the passage of the bill was a “heartbreak.” Speaking about the bill, Mondragon added that most people on campus, “weren’t exactly favorable towards it.”  MEChA also held a three-hour call-in before the bill was signed, urging Governor Jan Brewer not to sign the bill.

Following the end of Winter Quarter, a student-led Alternative Spring Break (ASB) took a group of students to Arizona to learn about immigration issues and conditions firsthand.  The group witnessed apprehended immigrants go through criminal proceedings and volunteered time filling water tanks in the desert and picking up trash on migrant trails.  The class also met with immigration reform activists as well as Officer Joe Arpaio, a well-known and controversial figure in immigration policy.

In Phoenix, the class was introduced to Arizona’s legislature.  At the time, S.B. 1070 had already been proposed, but not yet passed.  “The ASB trip was an amazing experience, both in the people we met and the environments we saw,” said Colin Gray, a member of ASB group that traveled to Arizona.

“Drawing from my limited information and a brief tour of the Arizona landscape, S.B. 1070 strikes me as a myopic political scare tactic. We met some of the people who surrender to the mindset of fear and alienation. It’s the retired population scared of losing their culture, or the workers who really think their jobs are in danger,” Gray continued.

Sharada Jambulapati, a member of Stanford Immigrant Rights Project (SIRP), also expressed deep concerns over the bill and has been heavily involved in orchestrating student reaction.

“Initially, we had a phone bank in opposition.  I actually sent out the event for a phone to VETO S.B. 1070 and got mixed reactions about the bill that weren’t exactly friendly.  I have also seen numerous email wars erupt about the issue on community list serves. But I think that this is not enough to address the issue,” she said.

SIRP was founded by ASB students who went to Arizona and San Diego in 2009, in order “to raise awareness about immigrant rights on campus and in the Bay Area.”

Faculty members have also voiced reactions to the bill.  Tomás Jiménez, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford and an Irvine Fellow at the New America Foundation, recently published an Op-Ed that appeared in the Los Angeles Times last April.

A leading researcher in the subjects of immigration and assimilation, Jiménez argued that illegal immigrants continue to face a “slow social and economic death” without comprehensive immigration reform. Failure to facilitate legalization, he emphasized, “leaves thousands of people who consider the United States their home in the shadows.”

About the campus reaction to the bill, Jambulapati said, “We need to have a face-to-face discussion about this immigration issue, which affects each of us individually.  And so that’s why I am grateful to see students in MEChA and SIRP become so involved with this issue.”

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