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Thursday, July 29, 2010 10:03 pm

Fighting myths about the undocumented

While vacationing in Flagstaff earlier this month, I was heartened to discover that if the new, repressive immigration law takes effect in Arizona today, that fair city won’t be snooping at shoes or using other creative means to guess immigration status. In much of the rest of Arizona, however, the controversial SB 1070 will make it a state crime to be undocumented.

Last week in Phoenix, the U.S. Department of Justice argued that portions of SB 1070 need to be enjoined because they preempt the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration. As of July 25, the country was awaiting Judge Susan Bolton’s determination to enjoin all, none, or only particular provisions of this law.

The defense claimed that the state of Arizona only wants to contribute to stemming out-of-control immigration and this law actually cooperates with federal policies. Questioning by the judge highlighted the creation of a new state crime of being in the country illegally, which conflicts with prior Supreme Court rulings that states may not have their individualized systems for registration.

In the judge’s mind, answers to these questions appeared to be critical: How can the police determine who is removable from the country and who is not? Would SB 1070 require police to hold someone indefinitely until they determine that individual is undocumented? What would happen to people without documents who are in the process of applying for a humanitarian visa? Why can’t a state create its own policy to have uniformity in the way police departments handle immigration?

Local jurisdictions apparently did not feel the need to wait for a state injunction. In May, 2010, the Flagstaff city council voted unanimously for an injunction against SB 1070. And immigrant and human rights groups throughout the state have held simultaneous press conferences in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson announcing that they and their supporters will refuse to comply if the law goes into effect on July 29.

In our own community, we have met hard-working undocumented individuals who raised families while living in the United States. We have met adolescents who, because they aren’t documented, can’t apply for college or work although they were born in this country (google “The DREAM Act”).

In these days of frenzied rhetoric, here are just two of the myriad immigration myths that bear repudiation:

- They don’t pay taxes.
Undocumented immigrants DO pay taxes: sales, property and income taxes.

- They send our dollars back home.
While it is true that immigrants remit billions of dollars a year to their countries of origin, this is one of the most effective forms of direct foreign investment. Additionally, undocumented individuals and their families spend considerable consumer dollars.

My father (God rest his soul) entered the U.S. in the early 1920s. My Tea Party-bending sister likes to think he arrived legally. I’m not so positive. So when I think of the possibility of SB 1070 going into effect, I imagine how my father would have been treated and what would have followed if this inhospitable and unjust law had been in place when he arrived in Louisiana – either documented or undocumented – to work, marry and raise a family in this land of the free. Then I think of the millions who have entered this country from the far corners of the world, and all of their contributions, and I wonder what kind of country we are allowing ourselves to become.

Diane Lopez Hughes is a community activist and Pax Christi Springfield representative on the Faith Coalition for the Common Good board. Join FCCG on Aug. 11 for a vigil to the Chicago-area Broadview Immigration Detention Center. For more information, 626-1004.

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