States Move to Police & Punish Undocumented Immigration

2010 — 2011

United States

Borders Citizenship Discrimination & Inequity

In 2010 and 2011, Arizona and Alabama moved to strengthen policing and punishment of undocumented immigrants, leaving a profound mark on the national discourse on immigration policy, civil rights, and national identity.

In April 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s SB 1070 gave unprecedented power to the police to detain suspected undocumented immigrants and criminalized the act of non-citizens failing to carry proof of legal residency at all times. Dubbed by activist critics the “Show Me Your Papers” bill, SB 1070 was met with large protests and spurred nationwide petitions on the grounds that it sanctioned racial profiling. In June 2012, the Supreme Court struck down three components of the law, but upheld the provision allowing law enforcement to investigate the immigration status of stopped or detained individuals on the basis of “reasonable suspicion.”

Alabama enacted an even more punitive and exclusionary immigration law in June 2011, HB 56. HB 56 mandates employers to use E-Verify (an Internet-based immigration status verification tool), allows police to arrest individuals suspected of lacking proper documentation, requires that K-12 schools ascertain the legal status of students, and prohibits undocumented immigrants from accessing public benefits. As a result, many immigrants fled the state, leading to labor shortages in various agricultural sectors. While the Justice Department challenged the Alabama law, the majority of its provisions were upheld in federal court in September 2011. Restrictive anti-immigrant laws have since been enacted in Georgia, Utah, and Indiana. During the 2012 presidential election campaign, immigration policies like those implemented in Arizona and Alabama gained further national attention when Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney voiced his support for “self-deportation” policies.