Jan Brewer and Arizona: Where human rights go to die

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Illustration by Kelsey Skordal

Wouldn’t it be nice to pretend that denying human rights to minorities and women is a thing of the American past? Of course, members of the Republican-controlled Arizona state congress would try to convince you that females, gays, and immigrants are denied entitlements, not rights. Governor Jan Brewer believes marriage is a privilege exclusive to the straight majority. She argues that reproductive health care access is a privilege to be regulated by the government. She believes undocumented workers and their children should be denied all state benefits before they are racially profiled, hunted down, strip searched, interrogated, and deported.

Arizona’s modern-day assault on human rights is truly historic. The state’s immigration policies stand alone as the most extreme and unsettling in the country.

President Obama and the White House have been relentlessly critical of Arizona’s policies. Obama is a president responsible for “silent raids” on companies that hire undocumented immigrants. He’s responsible for instituting extremely controversial quotas on deportation, up 300,000 a year from Bush’s quotas. Under Obama, 400,000 undocumented immigrants, the vast majority innocent of any crimes, are deported annually. But even by his standards, Arizona is dangerously backwards.

Undocumented immigrants who qualify for temporary legal status in the United States receive state and local benefits within the states they live in – all states except Arizona, where there are 1.7 million people who fall into this category. Brewer signed into law an executive order that prevented these immigrants from receiving all benefits granted by the government to other residents in the state. Even worse, despite their qualification for temporary legal status, the measure bars them from obtaining an Arizona driver’s license or a state-issued identification card and thus makes them dramatically more likely to be deported.

Brewer feared that even the far-right Arizona state congress would find this measure to be disturbing and unconstitutional, as Obama and leading Democrats nationwide have argued it is. So she bypassed democracy and misused the highly unconstitutional “executive privilege” most Governors refrain from utilizing.

Undocumented immigrants found in Arizona are likely to be victims of a legendary more-intense-than-any-other-state witch hunt. According to Hispanic rights organizations and coalitions in Arizona and around the country, these witch-hunts regularly target and humiliate legal Hispanic-American citizens in Arizona, making them more fearful of state authorities and increasingly likely to move out of the state.

In fact, there have been dozens of laws and executive orders implemented in Arizona in recent years that force immigrants to relocate. One of them, an executive order by Brewer, denies 80,000 immigrants “deferred action for child arrivals” which shields young immigrants from bring deported back to the country, typically Mexico, that they emigrated from. These 80,000 immigrants were under 16 when they were brought to America. They have lived in America since June 2007 and have no felony convictions. Anywhere else, they could apply for a two-year “deferred action.” But not Arizona.

So, they’ve fled. And they’ve fled by the thousands. The day after the executive order was issued, tens of thousands of undocumented students overflowed immigration offices in California and Texas and thousands more started looking for jobs in those states and others – Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Arizona passed Jan Brewer’s infamous immigration “crackdown” in 2010 to try to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its most controversial provision requiring cops to check the immigration status of people they stop if they suspect they are in the country illegally. Obama and others pointed out that the bill, SB 1070, is an attempt to legalize racial profiling. Many organizations, such as the anti-Racism activist non-profit Unity and Struggle, have compared the bill to Jim Crow laws.

One overlooked element of the bill, is that it forces immigrants arrested for being undocumented to pay their own court fees- a whopping $500 most of them don’t have. Plus, any second violation of the law, no matter how minor, is reclassified by SB 1070 as a felony. In perhaps the sickest twist, the fines imposed on those found guilty would be funneled into a special account established for the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission (GIITEM), a multi-agency task force created by the legislature earlier this year with $10 million in funding.

SB 1070 also specifically targets day laborers. The bill would make it a class one misdemeanor for anyone to “pick up passengers for work.” Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Human Rights Commission in Tucson, described SB 1070 as a “blatant attempt to target Latino workers.” In an interview with Democracy Now, Garcia described what the bill would mean if it were legalized in a place with taxis.

“In New York City, you wave a cab, and when they pull over, of course, it blocks traffic for a few seconds. That’s exactly what would be criminalized in all of the state of Arizona–guaranteeing, of course, that day laborers could not be out looking for work. We’ve criminalized work in the state of Arizona.”

SB 1070 and the long list of subsequent anti-immigrant laws in Arizona are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arizona’s full-fledged assault on human rights.

“Brewer has once again put Arizona’s name on the map as the epicenter of anti-immigrant racism and hate,” Garcia said in a statement.

The state’s assault on reproductive rights is equally historic. Arizona has defined gestational age as beginning on the first day of a woman’s last period. They have banned abortions after 20 weeks from the last menstation. The state has essentially shutdown medication abortions. These pill-induced nonsurgical abortions are typically preformed within the first nine weeks of pregnancy and account for 17 to 20 percent of all abortions nationwide.

While women often take the pills at Planned Parenthoods or in their homes, Arizona mandates that a medical provider must have hospital privileges within 30 miles of where the woman swallows the pill. Many times clinics or homes are not within 30 miles of hospitals, and the distance prevents providers from other cities or even states from caring for women. Moreover, Arizona requires abortion pills to be administered using outdated protocols, confusing providers and obscuring proper use of the drugs.

Many doctors in Arizona argue that this is the most restrictive and unconstitutional women’s health care law in the country.

The law “disregards women’s health in a way I’ve never seen before,” said Jordan Goldberg of Center for Reproductive Rights’ state advocacy counsel. “The women of Arizona can’t access medical treatment that other women can.”

This bill is one of many that restrict the women of Arizona from accessing reproductive health care. Brewer has mandated that public schools prioritize birth and adoption and never mention birth control or abortion. She’s mandated that all health care facilities have posters warning “abortion coercion.” She’s mandated that Arizona’s state health department create a website touting alternatives to abortion and displaying images of fetuses.

Other barriers to abortion access in Arizona include notarized parental consent for minors wishing to obtain an abortion. This includes minors who were raped, even minors raped by their own father. If you have not notified authorities that you were raped and impregnated by your father, in Arizona, you have to have his permission to have an abortion.

Women seeking an abortion in Arizona must be counseled about abortion alternatives and informed about the potential dangers of abortion by the clinic providing them with an abortion. Even though there are more medical risks in minor leg surgeries and far more medical risks in childbirth, abortion is the only medical procedure in Arizona in which a list of potential risks, most of them far less that one percent must be read out loud to women before they are given an abortion.

Arizona’s anti-abortion legislature is the “most draconian right-wing legislature” former Planned Parenthood national president and part-time Arizonan Gloria Feldt, has ever seen. “They are hand-in-hand with the governor who is in the same camp.”

When it comes to LGBT rights, Arizona is no better. Like many other states, Arizona has a state statue that defines marriage exclusively between one man and one woman. Civil unions are not permitted by the state either. The state recognizes no other form of same-sex relations and denies recognition to same-sex couples with unions established in other states and countries.

Worse, Arizona offers no discrimination protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Gays can be fired for being gay. They can be denied housing for being gay. Hate crimes against transgender Arizonans is not illegal in the state. Straight couples who are interested in adopting children are given preference over gay couples by the state.

Gay couples were ineligible for health benefits in Arizona until the Supreme Court found that unconstitutional. Of course, the wicked witch of the southwest, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, has requested that the Supreme Court overturn a ruling that allows state employees to keep their same-sex partners on their benefits, including health insurance.

Brewer and her assault on civil rights has already gone down as one of the most bigoted attacks in modern history. Minorities and women in Arizona are under attack, and until the federal government explicitly defines everything from LGBT housing discrimination to women’s health care mandates to clever bans on curbside passenger pick-ups as unconstitutional, nothing is to stop Arizona from becoming worse.

Dictatorial governor Jan Brewer will be in power until 2014. May God have mercy on the people of Arizona.

The Daily Beast, Unity and Struggle and The Huffington Post provided information crucial for the writing of this article.

Sam Smith

ComDeb Editor

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