Arizona SB1070 and the Historical Treatment of Immigrants in the United States

It should come as no surprise that there is a huge anti-immigrant movement in Arizona. After all, Arizona shares a border with Mexico and is largely populated by Mexicans who immigrated to the United States, both legally and illegally. The surprise is the amount of hatred seen on almost a daily basis. Not just from residents of Arizona but from the state’s leadership as well.

To dismiss these leaders as racists just fuels their fire. That is what they want to be called. They want to be able to dismiss the valid arguments of their opposition by claiming that these opponents are just playing the race card. This furthers their own personal and political agendas.

Many have heard of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070). In 2010, SB1070 brought Arizona’s anti-immigrant sentiment to the forefront of national news. The bill would have local law enforcement enforcing a state immigration law. The bill also allowed citizens to sue government agencies and officers who refused to enforce the law (FAIR).

Federal District Court Judge, Susan Bolton, overturned several key provisions of the law and the Ninth Circuit Court upheld that decision recently (Lemons). It is not over yet though, Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, who signed the bill into law, vowed to take the fight to the United States Supreme Court (Sunnucks). Either way, there are major legal and constitutional issues with this law, but those are for another article entirely.

What most do not realize is that this is a fight that has been going on for years in Arizona. This sentiment did not grow overnight. Arizona was at the forefront of the Minute Men controversy years ago. Scores of anti-immigrant followers camped out along the southern borders of the state in order to “report” illegal entries into the United States.

Then there were the employer sanctions laws passed by the Arizona Legislature that threatened to shut businesses down who were found to be employing illegal immigrants. While proponents of these laws will tell you that the laws only target illegal immigrants, it is clear that many of these supporters do not like legal immigrants as well.

Their hatred stems from the belief that anyone who immigrates here must abandon any cultural beliefs that do not fit their own beliefs. Celebrating Mexican Independence Day by flying a Mexican flag seems to rile them without end. Celebrating Cinco de Mayo or keeping any of the traditions of their homeland, places immigrants clearly in the cross hairs of the anti-immigrant movement. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, while State Superintendent of Public Instruction, spearheaded legislation that effectively eliminated cultural studies in public schools. A move affecting more than just illegal immigrants.

This is nothing new to this nation. An examination of the way Irish immigrants to America were treated in the 19th century sounds all too familiar when compared to today’s anti-Mexican movement. The Irish were stereotyped and often discriminated against in terms of employment and equal protections. They were often persecuted for their cultural and religious beliefs.

In 1942, the United States government, interned thousands of Japanese Americans based solely upon their ethnicity. The United States Census Bureau was vital in providing the military information on ethnicity in order to locate and imprison those of Japanese descent. Ironically, this created an influx of Mexican immigrants in order to fill the agricultural labor void left by the internment of Japanese Americans. Well over half of those imprisoned were American citizens.

Almost every ethnic group who has immigrated to the United States has faced challenges from those who subscribe to nativism. Much like Irish immigrants, Italian immigrants were subjected to stereotypes and unfair treatment, in large part because of their Catholic beliefs. During World War I, those of German descent were often forced to close their businesses due to anti-German sentiment.

In Arizona, the immigration fight continues. While the fight may not be present in the form of violence against immigrants in the streets of Phoenix, it is alive in the halls of the Arizona State Capitol. Until such time as Arizona legislators reflect on this country’s historical actions against immigrants, Arizona will continue to be a hot bed of racial and ethnic confrontation, despite the rich cultural and ethnic diversity that makes it such a wonderful state to live in.


“Legislative Analysis of Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” Federation for American Immigration Reform. April 27, 2010. May 9, 2011.

Lemons, Stephen. “Russell Pearce Denied by 9th Circuit on 1070; Judge Susan Bolton’s Injunction Remains.” Phoenix New Times. April 11, 2011. May 9, 2011.

Sunnucks, Mike. “Arizona Takes SB1010 Fight to Supreme Court.” Phoenix Business Journal. May 9, 2011. May 9, 2011.