Most of the outrage over Arizona SB 1070 has focused, deservedly, on its magic-legalism approach to racial profiling. But if that’s not enough to persuade you to boycott the state, you might want to look at some of the other provisions in the law that are only slightly less disgusting.

Take, for example, the section of the bill that makes it a state offense for a citizen to “encourage or induce an alien to come to or reside in this state if the person knows or recklessly disregards” that the “alien” is undocumented. This is the passage that evangelical pastor and activist Jim Wallis argues “would make obeying Jesus” — who did command his followers to welcome the stranger, after all — “against the law.” In particular, churches are concerned that they won’t be able to care for their undocumented parishioners, or help other immigrants in their communities in the midst of their social justice work, without bending over backwards to check the papers of those to whom they’re offering charity.

Like a lot of new “crimes” under SB 1070, “encouraging or inducing” is already illegal under federal law, and the courts have created an exception for people acting for humanitarian purposes (as opposed to trying to turn a profit). But since it’s already illegal under federal law to begin with, it’s unclear if the crime was created in SB 1070 solely for political posturing or if legislators hope Arizona courts will be less charitable to the charitable. It’s not like Arizona doesn’t have a history of clergy getting hauled into court for aiding undocumented immigrants. (That history is also why I don’t put a lot of stock in the preface of the section, which says that these charges can only be brought against someone “already in violation of a criminal offense.” If the federal government saw fit 20 years ago to send spies into church meetings to bring charges against pastors, why am I supposed to believe Joe Arpaio wouldn’t start fishing for other “offenses” to use as a smokescreen to arrest would-be Samaritans?)

Furthermore, advocates, clergy and volunteers already feel that their efforts in Arizona have been made illegal. It’s hard to continue doing charity with that kind of mental stumbling block. One of the most pernicious dangers of populism, in my opinion, is that government can go so far in the name of protecting “our values” that it can limit or impede private actions of conscience, undertaken by individuals or groups on their own time to express their values. In this case, the “rule of law” is being used to justify driving a wedge between clergy and parishioners, between neighbors, between relatives. It doesn’t criminalize charity, per se, but it makes it a whole lot harder. That’s bad for anyone who cares about civil society, or anyone who spends time volunteering for a “controversial” cause (clinic escorts come to mind).

You can read the Arizona ACLU’s full analysis of SB 1070 here. The analysis says it was updated on April 14th, which means it may not reflect the most recent amendments to the bill before passage. But given that this is a bill whose anti-discrimination provisions are modeled on attempted segregationist amendments to the Civil Rights Act, I’m not terribly concerned that it became radically more humane at the last minute.

Permadisclaimer: my opinions about immigration politics and policy are entirely my own and are in no way associated with my employer or any other organization.

Dara Lind

Dara Lind

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