June 4, 2010 Volume 111 Number 11

Opposition to Arizona’s immigrant law continues to grow

From the courtroom to the basketball court, opposition to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law is growing rapidly across a broad cross-section of Americans.

Last month, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were joined by several civil liberties groups in filing a class-action lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Signed by Gov. Jan Brewer and passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, the law orders state and local law enforcement officials to stop anyone they suspect of being undocumented and demand they immediately produce proof they legally live in the United States. Those who cannot produce such papers are subject to arrest.

“For our members, this issue is personal,” said UFCW President Joe Hansen. “UFCW members have seen first-hand how enforcement-only tactics fuel racial profiling — and lead to the trampling of our Constitution,” he said.

Hansen specifically cited Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, undertaken during the Bush Administration, against unionized Swift & Co., meatpacking plants. Of the more than 1,200 workers arrested in those ICE raids on Swift, 62 were undocumented. Swift was crippled so badly financially by having its plants closed for days, due to a decimated workforce, that its owners were forced to sell the historic Chicago-based firm to a Brazilian meatpacker.

“We are filing this suit to protect the rights of our members and all workers in Arizona — and to uphold the values and ideals that make our nation strong,” Hansen added.

“Arizona’s new immigration law is a flawed solution to a serious problem,” said SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina, the son of immigrants. “If implemented, the law will violate our most basic civil rights, burden local law enforcement and undermine public safety — all while failing to solve Arizona's immigration problems.

“We hope to stop the law before it institutionalizes racial profiling, pushes an unfunded mandate on cities and counties already strapped for cash,” Medina added.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the law “severely undermines workers’ rights: Any employer faced with Latino workers’ complaints — in the form of a picket or a lawsuit — can simply call the police and have workers arrested under the guise of ‘reasonable suspicion,’ ” he said.

Trumka said the law also turns public employees into federal immigration officials, requiring them to verify immigration status upon reasonable suspicion, “a complex task that they are not trained, or paid, to do,” he said. “To make matters worse, public employees must now perform that task under an ever-present threat of being sued because the law subjects local governments and their employees to potential lawsuits by any citizen who believes it is not being enforced strongly enough.”

Maybe one of the most personal and poignant rebukes to the Arizona law came on the basketball court at a Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix Suns NBA playoff game May 17 in LA. Vanessa Bryant, who is half Latina and wife of Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, was decked out at the game in a T-shirt bearing the words: “Do I Look Illegal?”

The Suns players also are protesting the law, wearing jerseys bearing the name “Los Suns” when they play at home.

(Editor’s Note: The AFL-CIO News blog and Press Associates Inc. contributed to this report.)

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