Pittsburgh--In response to Arizona's new anti-immigrant law and the effort by some Pennsylvania legislators to pass a similar discriminatory measure, the American Civil Liberties Union of PA (ACLU-PA) and allied groups will host a community forum to examine the potential impact of the Arizona law on civil liberties and racial profiling and discuss strategies to oppose the newly-introduced copycat bill in Pennsylvania. ACLU-PA Legal Director Witold "Vic" Walczak will also address the similarities between the Arizona law and the Hazelton, PA anti-immigrant ordinance currently awaiting a Third Circuit Court decision.
The event will take place on Monday, May 17th at 7:00PM at the Friends Meeting House - 4836 Ellsworth Ave., Pittsburgh, 15213 - and is co-sponsored by the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN), the American Friends Service Committee PA Program (AFSC-PA), the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Pittsburgh Chapter (CAIR-PA).
Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which requires law enforcement to question individuals they deem "reasonably suspicious" about their immigration status during everyday police encounters will have disastrous consequences for civil liberties and racial profiling. The law will make all of its Latino residents - and other presumed immigrants - potential criminal suspects and exacerbate the already rampant racial profiling of Latinos taking place in Arizona. Civil rights groups, including the ACLU, have denounced the law as unconstitutional and warn that many U.S. citizens and lawful residents will be swept up in its application. "These local efforts to control immigration, like Hazleton's and Arizona's, are a prescription for racial profiling that will create a toxic environment that turns native born citizens against anyone who looks or sound foreign," said Walczak.
Christina Powers, former Staff Attorney with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project who worked in Arizona until recently, explained that profiling laws actually make U.S. citizens less safe. By creating mandates to enforce immigration, the law drains valuable police resources and discourages immigrant and minority victims from reporting crimes, such as domestic assault. "It is no coincidence that Sheriff Joe Arapio of Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located), who is infamous for going out on ‘posses' to arrest alleged undocumented immigrants, has the highest rate of unserved felony warrants in the nation," said Powers. "The rhetoric about these laws being for the ‘safety and security' of U.S citizens is completely wrong, and only serves as a fig leaf to violate human rights."
In addition to sparking a national outcry from civil rights groups, the Arizona law has also inspired copycat measures in several other states - including Pennsylvania. Last week, Representatives Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) and Harry Readshaw (D-Carrick) introduced similar legislation, House Bill 2479, which directs local police to investigate and enforce federal immigration laws. Andy Hoover, ACLU-PA Legislative Director expressed doubts about the bill's prospects for passage, noting that past attempts to require the Pennsylvania State Police to enforce federal immigration law have failed to gain traction at the General Assembly. Hoover strongly criticized the Arizona law as one that "encourages racial profiling, betrays American values and provides a model for what not to do in Pennsylvania."
The ACLU-PA and its allies hope that this forum will educate participants about the Arizona law's implications for racial profiling and civil liberties and will provide information on how to oppose the misguided copycat bill in Pennsylvania.
The forum will feature a panel discussion with local legal experts and advocates:
- Vic Walczak, ACLU of PA Legal Director and lead attorney in challenging Hazelton's anti-immigrant law
- David Harris, University of Pittsburgh Law Professor, ACLU of PA's Pittsburgh Chapter board member and nationally recognized racial profiling expert
- Christina Powers, Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC) board member and former staff attorney with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona
- Jackie Martinez, immigration attorney and member of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN) Racial Profiling Task Force
- Sister Janice Vanderneck, Sisters of St. Joseph and member of the PATH to Justice Committee of the Religious Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh
- Safdar Khwaja, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Pittsburgh Chapter