CREDIT: Carla Chavarria
Before he ever had a chance to put the final touches on his lesson plan, Jose Patiño was putting the final touches on houses. Like some undocumented immigrants living in Phoenix, Arizona, Patiño works in construction.
“You think to yourself, I have a degree, why am I doing this?” he asked after he applied stucco to a house in a documentary about so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids.
Under President Barack Obama’s initiative known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, Patiño can finally use his college degree to work and live without the fear of deportation for two years. The program opened up the opportunity for him to apply for and accept a Teach for American fellowship. Next year, Patiño will be teaching math to young students in Phoenix. Patiño’s path to come this far has not been easy and may not last past the end of Obama’s presidency. That’s why he has been tirelessly working as an immigration advocate to pressure Congress and the President to act on meaningful immigration reform to make his teaching career permanent. But what sparked his passion to become an immigration advocate is not just because he is undocumented, but because he is undocumented in Arizona.
It was four years ago Wednesday that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed Senate Bill (SB) 1070 into law — that law implemented the so-called “show me your papers” policy, which made it legal for state and local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants. That law made it legal for police to arrest anyone who provided shelter or transported an undocumented immigrant. And that law incentivized pretextual stops for police officers to stop Patiño, his family, and other Latinos who just looked Latino.
In the intervening years, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down many of SB 1070’s most insidious provisions by limiting local immigration enforcement, based on constitutional grounds. Yet, the “show me your papers” provision remains. Some police encounters aren’t as bad as they were. But Patiño tells a story of the culture surrounding the law that still endures. Take for example Maricopa County’s anti-immigration Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been publicly vocal about his opposition to a federal judge requiring a court-ordered monitor to ensure that Maricopa County officers would no longer use race to make law enforcement decisions.
Over the course of three years, police stopped Patiño on four separate occasions. Six months after SB 1070 was signed and three months after the law was enacted, a cop pulled over Patiño for failing to fully come to a halt at a stop sign in October 2010. The cop accused Patiño of being drunk or high. “We talked and did every single test: the breath test, [recited] the alphabet backwards, walk on a line,” he told ThinkProgress on Tuesday. “I proved I wasn’t drunk, but they still impounded my car.” The cop gave him two tickets for not having a driver’s license and for not stopping fully. Another time, an officer pulled over Patiño for speeding and not using his turn signal. He explained that at least two dozen other cars had done the same. Patiño asked, “There were about 30 cars. Why was I the only car that was pulled over? It’s different for a person of color. You gotta find a way around it.”
In Brewer’s Arizona, Patiño has been unable to get any kind of state identification card since undocumented immigrants, even those with DACA status, are unable to obtain driver’s licenses. Instead he carried an alternate form of identification to indicate that he was harmless. The first time he was pulled over, he had a transcript; the next time, an Arizona State University (ASU) identification card; and finally by the fourth encounter, his diploma. Each time, the police softened their voices and let him go with a warning, citation, a ticket, or some tacit understanding that the officer was just following orders mandated by law.
“The cops would tell me that [the law is] messed up, but that things would get better. They would tell me, ‘don’t drive’ [in the meantime].” Patiño recalled about the third time he was pulled over. “I think it’s because they understand that I’m a person who’s just trying to get a degree.” Cops who pulled over his younger siblings would tell them some variant of, “You speak English too well to be illegal.”
For Patiño, SB 1070 did not spark, but rather solidified, his role as an immigration advocate. That spark came three years earlier when his undocumented status almost unraveled his future dreams — ASU had just revoked his merit-based scholarship based on a state law that prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving school-funded scholarships. The college later surprised him with a private scholarship, but he realized that he wouldn’t be so lucky again.
“For me, it just seemed that something was wrong with the way we were treated,” Patino explained. “You can’t wait, you gotta fight for what’s right and what’s moral. You have to educate people at the same time.”
“It got a lot more different when DACA passed,” Patiño said, noting that it is now easier for him and his siblings to live in Arizona. At the very least, he has an employment authorization card. But he expressed frustration that his parents are at risk for deportation, saying that they’re still “afraid.” That’s why Patiño will continue to be an advocate until there’s a federal solution. Just recently, he helped to organize hunger strikers, who are protesting the detention of their loved ones, in Phoenix and in Washington, D.C.
In July 2010, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked the most controversial portions of the law from taking effect, such as requiring law enforcement officers to determine immigration status; penalizing or criminalizing immigrants who don’t carry federally-issued alien registration documents; making it unlawful for undocumented immigrants to “knowingly apply for or perform work” in the state; and requiring the police to check the legal status of those stopped or arrested. Arizona filed a countersuit in February 2011, but two months later, the Ninth Circuit panel upheld a Department of Justice injunction that argued that the laws were unconstitutional.
By February 2012, Bolton further blocked a provision that would allow the arrest of day workers who block traffic to try and gain employment. In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court determined by a 5-3 majority that three sections of the law were preempted by federal law, but reinstated the central “show me your papers” portion of the law that would allow law enforcement to inquire about immigration status — albeit in a somewhat weakened form. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of an injunction against the provision that would have made it illegal to transport or harbor undocumented immigrants.