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Arizona's New Immigration Law Imperils Human Rights

by on May 4, 2010

In 2009, J-H- was an asylum seeker living in Phoenix, Arizona. J-H- is a survivor of female genital cutting (FGC) in her African homeland. As a victim of and activist against FGC, J-H- was targeted and violently attacked in her country, and her home was burned to the ground. Fearing for her life and safety, J-H- fled to the US without good immigration documents, and with almost no material possessions.In Arizona, J-H- was fortunate to find a volunteer lawyer who helped her apply to the federal government for asylum. Physicians for Human Rights was able to find a physician from our Asylum Network who was willing to evaluate J-H- in support of her claim to legal protection in the US.Concern for people like J-H- is why Physicians for Human Rights strongly opposes Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, signed into law April 23, 2010.SB 1070 will require all state and local law enforcement personnel in Arizona to detain an individual and verify immigration status whenever they develop reasonable suspicion that the person might be in the US illegally. The law also makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant or to seek work while one is undocumented in Arizona.The legislation imperils the human rights of US citizens, legal immigrants and the undocumented, including people like J-H- who have suffered horrible human rights abuses and are working to obtain legal status in the US.Human rights principles are universally applicable and protect everyone throughout Arizona and the US, not only those who have legal status. These include the right to be treated without discrimination by law enforcement, the right to be free from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and the right to seek asylum from persecution.SB 1070 threatens these rights through the methods it prescribes for carrying out immigration enforcement. It is difficult to imagine what obvious, visible signs might trigger police suspicion that one is undocumented or an immigrant aside from hallmarks of race and national origin. The law is likely to create arbitrary discrimination based on these factors. Uncertainty around what could create reasonable suspicion of illegality means that anyone in Arizona can anticipate being subjected to police intrusion and an identity check at any moment.Past experience with campaigns of immigration raids has shown that legally present immigrants and US family members are more reluctant to take part in civic activities, visit family members, or seek medical help for which they are legally entitled if doing so exposes them to potential questioning and arrest. If SB 1070 had been in force last year, fear of accessing community services may have prevented J-H- from seeking the legal help she needed to obtain asylum in the US. A life of fear and insecurity could have added to the physical and mental suffering she endured due to FGM.Arizona has sent an important message that immigration laws must be reformed on the federal level.?Although federal immigration policies have many serious flaws, immigration authorities take seriously the need to meet the health needs of highly vulnerable immigrants like J-H- if they are arrested for immigration violations. In contrast, states like Arizona do not have the resources or capacity to appropriately treat immigrant survivors of human rights abuses while their legal cases are pending.PHR calls upon Arizona to repeal its harmful legislation. We call upon Congress to act rapidly to pass comprehensive immigration reform that values freedom from discrimination and the rights of migrants to seek legal protections from human rights abuses.

Places: United States

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