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Sally T. Hillsman,
On May 24, 2010, in her capacity as ASA President, Evelyn Nakano Glenn wrote to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to express serious concerns about the Governor’s late-April signing of SB 1070 into law. This so-called "show your papers" law was conceived to identify, prosecute, and deport immigrants who have entered the country illegally. The manner in which it seeks to achieve this objective raises significant issues for the ASA. Another letter from President Glenn about Arizona’s new "anti-ethnic studies" law (HB 2281) vigorously protested Arizona’s legislative restrictions on K-12 curricula that draw on the research and scholarship of established fields of the social sciences and humanities as well as knowledge developed in interdisciplinary ethnic studies departments of the nation’s foremost universities and colleges.
Within days of Glenn’s letters to Governor Brewer, the ASA Council, at the urging of many ASA sections and individual members, developed and approved two statements reflecting the Association’s interests as a scholarly association in these laws, making ASA one of many critics of the laws and calling for their repeal. Both the letter and statement are accessible on the ASA website (www.asanet.org).
Even before the identity papers bill became Arizona law, President Barack Obama publicly criticized the proposed legislation for threatening "to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe." He is right about the importance of trust between government representatives (in this case, the police) and citizens being at the heart of civil society and representing one of the core values in our laws. He is right about the social science aspect as well. Research (reflected in many police departments’ resistance to taking on federal immigration functions) has documented that members of vulnerable communities do not want to report crimes, including family violence and sexual assault, to police when they fear police will exercise an immigration function. Such conditions hamper the police in fighting crime and helping victims in communities where trust between police and citizens has been compromised.
The identity papers law makes it imperative that persons stopped by the police in Arizona have on their person official citizenship or immigration identification documents. Despite late-arising assurances from the governor that racial/ethnic profiling will not occur in Arizona, the law gives Arizona police the authority to check the citizenship and legal residence of anyone stopped for suspicion of violating any law and then to detain them until identity papers are produced. This openly invites the state to harass and discriminate against Hispanics and other groups who might be viewed as potential illegal aliens.
Among other faults, the law facially violates fundamental "principles of liberty and justice" in U.S. law, according to the Council statement. Some critics viewed it as a first serious step toward codified state-sanctioned facilitation of stereotype-based profiling, historically a characteristic of totalitarian states. Such policies have cultivated arbitrary and politically motivated law enforcement fed by toxic suspicion of specific categories of persons. These are not only unpleasant historical memories, but they have real personal consequences today. A sociologist colleague of mine is hesitating about a planned family vacation to Arizona because this family includes two children adopted from Central America. Should they take their passports? Should you? Council doesn’t want to find out, so ASA will not be considering an Annual Meeting in Arizona while this law is in effect.
ASA Council issued a second statement on May 28 to protest Arizona’s troublesome law HB 2281, which Council also urged the Governor to repeal. This legislation significantly limits the extent to which K-12 public and charter schools of Arizona can teach widely used, research-based ethnic studies curricula. One result of this, according to the Council statement, is that "it will be a great disservice to the youth of Arizona to be deprived of access to this rich body of important knowledge that has contributed to the well-being of the United States, a nation that is envied across the democratic world for its successful diversity."
As has Arizona’s immigration law, this anti-ethnic studies law has been the subject of much media attention. One aspect of it, however, is of considerable concern to ASA as a scholarly association. "HB2281 makes possible, and potentially encourages, the persecution of teachers and school administrators in Arizona solely on the basis of presenting material in their classrooms that comes from a recognized body of scholarship that has produced an extensive and useful body of knowledge," according to the Council statement. Council also noted that ASA, as well as other scholarly societies, is concerned that similar legislation could outlaw or limit teaching ethnic studies in Arizona’s public institutions of higher education.
ASA Council’s statement characterized the bill’s flaws and ASA’s concerns in relation to the principles of academic freedom; the importance of science and established scholarship as well as pedagogical expertise in the development of valid and effective curricula; and the educational and cultural enrichment of teaching ethnic studies in relation to our nation’s history as a "country composed of people from many different backgrounds whose diverse experiences and cultures have contributed to the nation’s dynamism and progress."
ASA Council is not quick to make public statements, and its criteria for doing so include evidence that solid sociological scholarship is pertinent to the issue and/or that the discipline is potentially undermined. Council’s statements address the challenges that the discipline and sociologists face from these two pieces of legislation. It is not comforting that many Americans, and possibly a majority, so the opinion polls tell us, are in favor of at least the first of these Arizona laws, despite their rejection for years of establishing citizen identification numbers. But that remains an area for future
Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA.
She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.