An Arizona Democrat’s Attempt to Help Immigrants Backfires

Mar 1, 2016
3:25 PM


State senator Martin Quezada (Arizona)

State senator Martin Quezada (Arizona)

Arizona is at it again. The Trump phenomenon is emboldening racist legislators to propose the types of bills we haven’t seen in five years. Bills like the ones that got SB1070’s sponsor Russell Pearce recalled from office are now being introduced by his then-cronies John Kavanagh and Steve Smith, now that they see the opportunity to be the lead actors in the state’s war of attrition against Brown people.

If passed, they would make life for immigrants and Brown people in Arizona even worse than it already is. They would create two separate criminal justice systems: one for the documented and one for the none. They would deny undocumented people any right to probation, alternatives to incarceration, or shortened sentences and make it to where undocumented people must serve the lengthiest sentence for any conviction. They would impose the restrictive standards the state has created to prevent cities from implementing proactive solutions like Phoenix’s new municipal ID programs.

In the context of the SB1070 forces re-emerging, you would expect friends to immigrants and Latinos in the state legislature to be standing up to these proposals, developing parliamentary moves to see them stalled or stopped, and countering with positive bills that outline what real solutions look like.

But in 2016 our “friends” have not learned how to be helpful and on the contrary continue to propose things that hurt more.

Martin Quezada, a Latino Democrat state senator, is actually introducing a tough-on-crime bill that broadens penalties and gives law enforcers like Arpaio and the prosecutors who work with him new tools to punish our community. The bill goes against the national bipartisan trend to redefine justice and reduce mass incarceration that’s been spurred on by the Black Lives Matter Movement. And in Arizona, it goes against common sense.

SB1271 doesn’t create new laws that address new problems. It simply adds harsher sentences to existing laws and puts the discretion of enforcing them directly into the hands of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others like him, instead of the state’s Attorney General. We’ve seen this approach before. Kyrsten Sinema, previous Arizona state senator, introduced a well-intentioned anti-smuggling law. But in our state, what’s intended to help gets used to hurt as quickly as the ink can dry on the governor’s desk Instead of preventing the terrible practice of smuggling, Arpaio used the bill as a pretext and extra punishment, charging undocumented people with conspiracy to smuggle themselves.

Quezada’s proposal is probably intended to be helpful. It aims to address fraud by Notarios (Public Notaries) who prey on immigrant communities with false promises and fake legal services. In general, notaries and non-lawyer immigration services have grown out of need from a community that is under attack and confronted by extremely expensive immigration attorneys. Like any industry, there are people whose motive is to take advantage. But for every unscrupulous notary, there are probably one hundred neighbors helping neighbors and community organizations filling the gap with informative workshops and volunteer assistance.

The problem does deserve attention and we must all work to make sure our community is not made victim to fraud. But the steeper sentences and more policing in SB1271 is not the way to do that. At a time when Kavanagh and Smith are presenting an onslaught of legislation against our community, it should be withdrawn, not piled on. As written, an attempt to protect our community will only result in exposing us to the very predatory forces that have engaged in a shameless assault against us.

The current Maricopa County attorney has supported Arpaio in raiding our families and has a long legacy of anti-immigrant policies. If passed, it is the Sheriff himself and the Maricopa County attorney Bill Montgomery would be handed new toys to go after our community. Whether it’s because his attorney friends are trying to protect professional territory, or because he wants tough-on-crime credentials, or even if Quezada genuinely is trying to help vulnerable people, this policy is misguided and feeds right into the anti-immigrant rage that is attempting to get rid of us.

When we’re so often told that the remedy to political attacks like what we’re seeing from the SB1070 forces is to elect Latinos and Democrats to office, Quezada’s example is calling that into question. We need friends and champions in office to stand up to the Arpaios of our state, not give them more power.


Carlos García is the executive director of Puente Arizona.