Immigration SB 1070 Author, Opponents Spar Ahead of Supreme Court Hearing

DREAMers delivering petitions to ICE in 2010. From L-R, Matias Ramos, Tania Unzueta, and Dulce Matuz. (Photo Via America’s Voice/flickr)

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Rosa Maria Soto watched with emotion as Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) held up the picture of her daughter to an audience of mostly journalists at a sub-committee hearing on the impact of immigration laws such as SB 1070 on Tuesday in Washington.

Soto’s daughter, Dulce Matuz, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People this year. She is also an undocumented immigrant from Arizona who graduated with a Master’s degree in engineering.

“I think this recognition comes with a lot of responsibility for everyone to work harder and not to allow anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 to escalate the way it did in Arizona,” said Matuz as she was getting ready to be part of a Time Magazine 100 gala in New York. “It’s giving us a platform to continue to fight for immigrant youth and continue to fight for the DREAM Act.”

On the eve of a Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of SB 1070, a law that made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona, Sen. Durbin turned attention towards the youth caught in the crosshairs of this legislation.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law on April 23, 2010. U.S District judge Susan Bolton blocked essential parts of the law, and that decision was later upheld by a panel of federal judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Brewer appealed that decision to the Supreme Court which will consider only four portions of the law and whether or not they exceed the state’s power to act when it comes to immigration. These provisions include the requirement for police to mandatorily detain someone if they suspect the person is in the country illegally, criminal penalties for seeking work while being in the state without documents, and the ability to arrest someone without a warrant if the person could be deported.

Durbin is a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would allow undocumented students to legalize their status by continuing their education or enrolling in the military. The bill, though gaining momentum, did not pass the Senate in 2010 and hasn’t been reintroduced yet this year.

During the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security hearing, Durbin confronted the author of SB 1070, former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce with pictures of educated undocumented youth.

“You would say that because the parent didn’t file papers now the child has to suffer?” Durbin said at the hearing. But Pearce defended the law, and called  the DREAM Act “a blanket amnesty.”

“My heart goes out to [parents], blame those who put them in that position,” said Pearce after the hearing. “I can’t change that, the laws must be enforced.”

Pearce recognized SB 1070 could result in the arrests of people such as Matuz, but argued “that states have no ability to set the conditions for coming here or remaining here, that’s a federal purview.”

The witness list at the hearing included former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ), Senator Steve Gallardo (D-AZ), as well as businessman Todd Landfried, the executive director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform.

“I’m embarrassed about my state, I apologize for Arizona’s actions towards Latinos, legal or illegal,” said DeConcini. “This is not a way to treat people.”

Pearce was the only witness who spoke in favor of SB 1070. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer turned down an invitation to be part of the hearing.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) who presided over the hearing said that if the Supreme Court didn’t find SB 1070 unconstitutional he would introduce legislation to prevent states from imposing their own civil and criminal penalties on immigration issues.

“There’s so many injustices that not everyone sees, but if the justices saw that, they’ll stop the law immediately,” said Soto, after the hearing where her daughter was used as an example.

She is also worried that if SB 1070 goes fully into effect chaos will be unleashed in Arizona’s immigrant community and people will leave Arizona. According to a report from the Center for American Progress, about 100,000 people left the state after SB 1070’s passage and the state suffered the economic loss of $141 million due to a national boycott that drove away conventions,.

“It will be a loss for the United States, once again the economy will go down. I don’t know how many years need to go by till the authorities will realize the country is down and can progress,” Soto said.

Feet in Two Worlds is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the New York Community Trust, the Ralph E. Ogden Foundation and the Sirus Fund.  Fi2W podcasts are supported in part by WNYC, New York Public Radio and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

AboutValeria Fernández
Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist from Uruguay with more than a 14 years experience as a bilingual documentary producer and reporter on Arizona’s immigrant community and the US-Mexico borderlands. She co-directed and produced "Two Americans,” a documentary that parallels the stories of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a 9-year-old U.S. citizen whose parents were arrested by the sheriff’s deputies that aired in Al Jazeera America. Her work as reporter for the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting on the economic and social impacts of a mine spill in Northern Mexico broadcast in PBS, San Diego and won an Arizona Press Club recognition for environmental reporting in 2016. She freelances for a number of print, digital and broadcast media outlets, including Feet in 2 Worlds, CNN Español, Radio Bilingue, PRI's Global Nation, Al Jazeera, and Discovery Spanish.