The Road to S.B. 1070: How Arizona Became Ground Zero for the Immigrants' Rights Movement and the Continuing Struggle for Latino Civil Rights in America

22 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2011 Last revised: 8 Aug 2012

See all articles by Kristina M. Campbell

Kristina M. Campbell

University of the District of Columbia - David A. Clarke School of Law

Date Written: August 17, 2011


When Arizona Governor Janice K. Brewer signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act - better known as SB 1070 - into law in April 2010, the world was taken aback not only by the State of Arizona’s brazen attempt to regulate immigration at the state level, but by the manner in which it pledged to do so. By giving state and local law enforcement officials the responsibility to detain persons that they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe are unlawfully present, the Arizona immigration law was not only branded “the toughest immigration law in the country,” but it was also heavily criticized as a law which premised its enforcement on racial profiling of Latinos and other racial minorities and which would require anyone to produce proof of citizenship to law enforcement on demand.

Although SB 1070 seemed to have come out of nowhere to many persons, residents of the State of Arizona and other observers of Arizona state politics are keenly aware that its passage by the Arizona legislature and its signing by Governor Brewer were in the making for the better part of the last decade. Beginning with the approval of Proposition 200 in 2004 - a ballot initiative formally known as the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen and Protection Act that prohibited undocumented persons from voting and from receiving access to state and local public benefits - a concerted effort by Arizona state legislators and anti-immigrant groups led to the enactment of no less than a half-dozen laws designed to regulate immigration and punish undocumented immigrants in the State of Arizona. While the anti-immigrant fervor in Arizona would reach a crescendo with the enactment of SB 1070, the truth is that its passage merely represents the codification of a scheme designed to ensure “attrition by enforcement” of undocumented immigrants in the State of Arizona that had been building for quite some time, particularly in Phoenix, the state capitol and the county seat of Maricopa County, which is home to more than 3/5 of the state’s population and is under the jurisdiction of the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

This Article examines the road leading up to the passage of SB 1070 in early 2010, and attempts to demonstrate how it and other state immigration laws that purport to be a legitimate exercise of governmental authority are, in fact, tools of oppression, racism, and xenophobia, particularly against Latinos. In looking back on the state laws regulating immigration that preceded SB 1070, this Article argues that by using alienage as a proxy for race, color, and national origin, Arizona’s attempt to regulate immigration at the state level is a form of legitimized vigilantism designed to purge the State of Arizona not only of undocumented persons, but of all persons who are or appear to be of Latino heritage, through racial profiling by state and local law enforcement.

Part I provides an overview of the pre-SB 1070 immigration regulations enacted in Arizona during the 2000s, either by the Arizona legislature or through the approval of ballot initiatives by Arizona voters. Part II discusses how this assault on the rights of Latino immigrants and citizens in the State of Arizona has given rise to a powerful grassroots response, in which Latinos and their allies have fought back against the civil and human rights abuses that have resulted in the wake of various state and local anti-immigrant laws and demanded ¡ya basta! In light of this response, I examine how Arizona has transformed from a place where immigrants and Latinos suffered in relative silence to become the home of a vocal, passionate group of advocates whose activism has made Phoenix the modern-day Selma in the struggle for immigrant and Latino civil rights in America. Finally, in Part III, I examine the landscape for state and local anti-immigrant regulations in the United States post-SB 1070, and offer a prognostication as to what the battle over immigrants’ and Latino rights in Arizona means for the struggle for federal comprehensive immigration reform going forward.

Keywords: Arizona, S.B. 1070, Latinos, immigration, racial profiling, immigration reform, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Campbell, Kristina Michelle, The Road to S.B. 1070: How Arizona Became Ground Zero for the Immigrants' Rights Movement and the Continuing Struggle for Latino Civil Rights in America (August 17, 2011). Harvard Latino Law Review, Vol. 14, Spring 2011, Available at SSRN:

Kristina Michelle Campbell (Contact Author)

University of the District of Columbia - David A. Clarke School of Law ( email )

4340 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
United States

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