Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), gave a talk criticizing Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, S.B. 1070, at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum Monday, Nov. 22. The talk was co-sponsored by the office of Chicano/Latino Student Affairs and the Athenaeum.
The law has generated controversy mostly because of provisions mandating that police check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws—that is, even while speaking to a witness or victim—and requiring noncitizens to carry registration papers at all times.
Under Saenz’s leadership, MALDEF joined a coalition of civil rights groups to challenge Arizona’s law in court. While working at MALDEF prior to his presidency, Saenz also successfully challenged California’s Proposition 187, a 1994 law that sought to deny government services to illegal aliens.
The law, Saenz said, “created for the first time a new state crime: the crime of being undocumented, for which you may be imprisoned for up to six months and eventually expelled from the country.”
He also urged the audience to oppose “the New Nullification,” his term for the movement among state governments to imitate Arizona’s law.
Saenz criticized the Arizona law primarily for encroaching on the proper domain of federal enforcement, for encouraging racial profiling, and for violating the free speech rights of illegal immigrants.
The first offense, he argued, is perpetrated through the law’s explicit embrace of the “attrition through enforcement doctrine,” advocated by the anti-immigration movement, according to which state and local governments should more strictly enforce existing federal immigration law.
He described the implementation of this doctrine as “the effort to make people’s lives so horrible on a daily basis that they will decide to leave Arizona, to leave the country.”
His second criticism concerned the controversial provisions that have received the most public attention, as well as the opposition of a federal judge. These provisions require more vigorous police enforcement of immigration law.
He objected to these provisions, arguing that they are unconstitutional.
“[They] require police officers to rely on racial aspects or proxies for race, like language name, as a basis for stopping or detaining someone,” he said.
He specifically objected to a provision in the bill that forbids undocumented individuals from soliciting employment on penalty of arrest because he believes it violates the First Amendment.
“The talk was educational,” said Kathy Garcia PO ’14, who attended the talk. “Talks like these are necessary because immigration is a big issue nationwide.”
Ilana Ortiz PO ’14 said that the talk “nailed many controversies related to S.B. 1070 and clarified the text of the bill.”