Indian Americans Have Mixed Reactions to Arizona Law

Indian Americans Have Mixed Reactions to Arizona Law

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 The nation’s toughest anti-immigrant law, passed last month in Arizona, is necessary for the safety of the local community, said a long-time Indian American resident of the state.

“The state is trying to take care of us; it’s for our own best welfare,” Mairaah Aggarwal, who has lived in Phoenix, Ariz., for 15 years, told India-West, adding that she had no issue with going to jail if she were ever to be stopped without proper documentation.

Several civil rights organizations have condemned Arizona’s SB 1070 — signed into law April 23 — which allows police and other local authorities to demand proof of immigration from anyone they suspect of being undocumented.

Failure to provide proof — such as a naturalization certificate, green card or U.S. passport — could result in arrests and jail sentences for up to six months, with a fine of $2,500.

Civil rights organizations fear that SB 1070 will lead to racial profiling of any person of color (I-W, April 30). Since the bill’s passage, several modifications have been added that promoters say will prohibit racial profiling.

But a coalition of organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Asian Law Caucus, the Asian American Justice Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Immigration Law Center — have announced jointly that they will challenge the constitutionality of SB 1070.

But Aggarwal, who owns a fine jewelry store in Phoenix, said the new law was not meant to be discriminatory. “We are brown, we look like Mexicans, so they stop us. I don’t see any discrimination in that.”

Ash Patel, past president of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, said the new law has hurt the state’s lodging and hospitality business immensely, as several national organizations and cities across the nation have called for a boycott of Arizona’s products and services.

Patel, founder of Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Southwest Hospitality Management, told India-West that many local hotels have complained about cancellations of large groups and meetings following the passage of SB 1070.

The hospitality and lodging industry has been hard hit by the recession, he said, adding, “This is absolutely the wrong time for our state to be seen negatively by the rest of the world.”

“We definitely do have an illegal alien problem in this state,” said Patel. “The state has had to take on a lot of burden because the federal government has failed to provide any resolution.”

But the legislation is very detrimental to the state, and its large ethnic community, said Patel. “This is a piece of legislation that clearly opens the door to racial profiling,” he added.

Patel said he has already been stopped many times by police, and fears that such incidents may increase now. He noted the number of elderly immigrants traveling through the state to see the Grand Canyon, who may not be able to verify their identity immediately to police, or communicate their legal status effectively. “They’re going to be in real trouble,” asserted Patel.

Sharmila Sen, who has lived in Phoenix for more than 23 years, said she finds the new law unnerving.

The Kolkata native and former librarian has never taken up U.S. citizenship, despite bringing up her three children in Arizona. “I’m now very aware of the fact that I’m not a U.S. citizen. This legislation gives police the right to arrest me if I’m not carrying my green card,” she told India-West.

The police do not seem happy enforcing this law, said Sen, noting that her past interactions with local law enforcement — for a speeding ticket — have been polite and respectful.

The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police announced their opposition to SB 1070 before the measure was approved.

“The provisions of the bill remain problematic and will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner,” said AACOP in a statement.

“While AACOP recognizes immigration as a significant issue in Arizona, we remain strong in our belief that it is an issue most appropriately addressed at the federal level. AACOP strongly urges the U.S. Congress to immediately initiate the necessary steps to begin the process of comprehensively addressing the immigration issue to provide solutions that are fair, logical, and equitable.”

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik also spoke out against the legislation shortly after its passage.

"I think the law, as I have said, is unwise, it's stupid, and it's racist," Dupnik told local press, adding that Arizona police could now be sued both for not enforcing the new law, and conversely, for racial profiling.