|By Valeria Fernandez
New America Media, News Report
Jan 21, 2011
Earlier this month, Republican legislators unveiled a bill that would re-interpret the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, to deny birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. The bill has not yet been introduced for a vote as legislators cite budget priorities, although other measures likely to affect ethnic communities in Arizona are already on the fast track and being discussed at the State Capitol.
Among those is a Senate resolution that would ask voters to change the Arizona Constitution to prevent state judges from considering international law and other cultures in their judicial decisions.
According to its sponsor, Republican Senator Linda Gray, the bill is not a response to immigration concerns, but about protecting the rights of women. Gray has the support of 20 other Republicans, including SB 1070’s creator, Senator Russell Pearce.
“We are trying to protect the most vulnerable,” said Gray, who believes a ballot initiative passed by Arizona voters would be more difficult to overturn by the Legislature if challenged.
Senator Gray said the law was inspired by the case of a 20 year old woman who was allegedly run over by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, in what prosecutors labeled an “honor killing”, because the father claimed his daughter had dishonored the family by becoming too westernized. The father is still on trial.
Gray said that if judges consider cultural differences and international law in their decisions, it could result in protecting the aggressor in such cases. She cited a New Jersey case in which a Muslim woman who charged her husband with rape had requested a restraining order from a court, only to be denied by a judge who ruled that the husband was acting upon his cultural beliefs.
“We treat women here better than other countries, (so) you have to go by American law, not the intention of another culture or country,” said Gray.
A similar law was declared unconstitutional in Oklahoma and several legal observers agree that the same could happen in Arizona.
“This (legislation) looks like distrust of the judiciary and I don’t think it is justified,” said Aaron Fellmeth, a law professor at Arizona State University.
International law, he said, is recognized within the U.S. Constitution and refers mostly to universally accepted practices, while also providing a framework for how nations interact with one another through treaties.
Fellmeth also emphasized that foreign law and international law are not the same thing. Foreign law, he said, rarely comes into play during U.S. court cases like those cited by Gray, and when it does, most judges will dismiss such a case and refer it to the proper country.
Gabriel Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona, said the legislation could also cause economic harm. “Because it was not carefully written, it would make Arizona a terrible place to do international or interstate business,” said Chin. “No business could be assured that a treaty or choice of law provision in a contract would apply,” he added.
For that reason, Gray said she is in the process of amending the bill. “We don’t want to do anything to harm businesses,” she said.
But human rights advocates are concerned the resolution will defeat the very purpose for which it was intended.
“It does the exact opposite, if the goal is to protect women’s rights,” said Jaime Farrant, policy director for the Border Action Network. “What this measure would do is stop judges from establishing that rape is a crime against humanity,” he added, citing one example of international law.
In many respects, said Fellmeth, international law offers more protections than U.S. law in the area of human rights, by requiring governments to protect citizens against violence.
The legislation being introduced in Arizona comes at a time when many Latin American nations are condemning SB 1070. The United Nations has also denounced that law, and another that would ban the teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona public schools.
The U.N. statement goes on to say that the two Arizona laws “raise serious doubts about… compatibility with relevant international human rights treaties to which the United States is a party.”
On Wednesday, a diverse coalition of over ten state groups that advocate for immigrant rights called for a moratorium on all legislation aimed at illegal immigration in light of the recent shooting in Tucson that left 6 dead, and 19 wounded, including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
“We call on Arizona lawmakers to restore sanity and civility to politics,” said Joel Olson, a spokesperson for the group and a member of the Repeal Coalition. While the shooting was not connected to the immigration rhetoric used by politicians in the state, said Olson, the constant use of words like “criminal” and “invasion” have created a hostile environment towards immigrants.
The coalition group includes members of the PUENTE movement, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Arizona Dream Act Coalition and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix.
“I don’t understand the rationally behind it,” said James Kavanagh, a Republican representative. “To the extent that people are saying don’t run bills that we don’t like because of Tucson, I think they are capitalizing on the shooting for their own advantage.”
He is supporting Gray’s resolution as well as a number of new measures aimed at illegal immigrants, like one that would deny undocumented immigrants access to obtaining any type of professional license, such as a food handler’s card to cook in a restaurant.
Another proposal already introduced would require state schools to keep track of undocumented students and provide a report to the State Legislature on the number enrolled in their schools. Districts that refuse to comply would run the risk of loosing state funding. Kavanagh said this would help the state keep track of how much it spends on undocumented students.
“The taxpayers and voters need to know… the cost of illegal immigration,” he said.
Educators are concerned that the bill will cause an increase in school dropouts and add to the climate of fear already created by SB 1070.
“When you put children in a position of feeling threatened, it impacts how they learn,” said Rosemary Agneessens, principal at Creighton Elementary School in central Phoenix. She said her school lost 100 students last summer, most likely in connection to immigration laws.
Another bill that is up for discussion this week would allow state lawmakers to hire their own private attorneys to provide legal defense on lawsuits filed against SB 1070. Yet another would allow National Guard troops to be deployed on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network, said the strategy of immigrant advocates must shift this year to focus more on creating legislation that is positive towards minority communities.
“We’ve got to make sure… that we are counted, and have some control and accountability over the State Legislature,” said Allen.
Allen believes most of the bills being introduced won’t pass, but their impact, she said, is in the way they affect the tone of the immigration debate in Arizona.
While the PUENTE movement sent emails to Arizona Democratic legislators asking them to walk out of immigration legislation meetings as a form of protest, Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic representative, said she disagrees with that strategy.
Sinema is planning to introduce a bill that would impose heftier penalties on individuals that operate “drop houses” used to hold undocumented immigrants hostage.