Mexican opinion of US dwindles amid spread of Arizona-style immigration laws

Georgia's legislature passed a bill Thursday night giving law enforcement broader authority to verify immigrant status, a move inspired by an Arizona law that many Mexicans called 'racist.'

Mexicans might now be reticent about taking that midnight train to Georgia. The state legislature Thursday passed an Arizona-style immigration bill authorizing police to check the passport status of anyone deemed “suspicious” and forces businesses to do the same with potential employees.

The bill, which Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is expected to sign, is the latest in a wave of immigration reform legislation that is sweeping the US and souring Mexican opinion of America. Prior to the enactment of the Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 one year ago, 62 percent of Mexicans had a positive opinion of the US, compared with 44 percent after the law passed, according to the Pew Research Center.

“I don’t like the climate over there, it’s horrible,” says Felipe Hernandez, a taxi driver in Mexico City, who recently decided against immigrating to the US because of fears over the new laws.

IN PICTURES: The scene at the US/Mexico border

In addition to Georgia, three more states – Alabama, Florida, and South Carolina – are poised to adopt “show me your papers” laws in coming months. As such laws quietly proliferate in the US, Mexicans are anxiously watching, concerned that the US is becoming increasingly xenophobic. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the former mayor of Mexico City and a past presidential candidate, told the Monitor that the Arizona law is “racist” and that he will be “encouraging the defeat of any and all ‘show me your paper laws.’ ”

No less than two dozen states have introduced pieces of legislation with “show me your papers” aspects, although there is some significant doubt whether they will ever be enforced. Not one state has implemented such laws, and nine states have voted down similar proposals. Court challenges to Arizona’s law have prevented its full implementation, including the provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they lawfully stop, and Georgia’s law is also expected to be the target of legal challenges.

"Criminalizing immigration will not stop the flow of Immigration," says Avelino Mendez, a lawmaker representing a Mexico City district. "These laws don’t solve anything.”

"These laws may change the way we see ‘el gabacho,' " says Guillermo Rivera, a constituent from Mr. Mendez’s district, using the Spanish slang for Americans. "But it won’t stop us from going there.”

Mexicans see US in new light

Polling data does indeed reveal a sharply eroded opinion toward the US. Among 21 nations recently surveyed in the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Mexicans had the largest decline in favorable opinion toward the US, with researchers eyeing the Arizona law as the cause. Such opinions are reflected across Mexican politics. Right-leaning President Felipe Calderón has said the Arizona law amounts to a tacit acceptance of racial profiling, echoing the sentiments of left-leaning Mr. Cárdenas.

Jamie Juarez certainly agrees with that. A documented immigrant from Mexico now residing in Tuscon, Ariz., his stepdaughter was last August driving on Tuscon’s I-10 with several friends when a highway patrol officer stopped their car, ostensibly for a broken window, and requested their IDs. One of the girls lacked her “papers.” Officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) then detained Mr. Juarez’s stepdaughter and two girlfriends.

If Juarez had not rushed to the scene and presented the papers of his stepdaughter, she may have been deported like her friends, who were both sent back to Mexico.

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“The officer told me that he didn’t know if they were ‘terrorists or criminals,’ ” says Juarez, his voice visibly shaken and angry. “This greatly offended me and made me think that this man was racist and shouldn't be working as a police officer. I assume he won't be reprimanded, because Arizona is plagued with problems like these.”

Cecilia Wang, a lawyer for the Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who took down Juarez’s story, calls this a clear case of racial profiling. “What the officer did in this situation, asking for all passengers for identification, falls out of the purview for a traffic stop and was improper. This is why we're concerned about the fate of SB 1070, as this story can become a legal practice.”

Deportations for routine traffic violations are very common, says Guadulupe Chipole, director of a Mexican federal agency that provides services to immigrant families. “Many of them complain that only because they were dark skinned, they were stopped by the police,” she says.

Laws strain state finances

Amid such outrage among Mexicans, some US-based groups are also launching attacks on the laws. The Center for American Progress in Washington has taken a financial angle, asserting that Arizona’s economy would lose $50 billion through the cost of law enforcement and the loss of cheap labor and tax revenue.

“The stated goal of ‘show me your paper laws’ is to drive the whole undocumented population out,” says Marshall Fitz, the center’s director of immigration policy. “If you were to succeed with this… it would shrink their economy substantially and be a windfall for taxpayers and public revenues.”

“This ideological swing toward xenophobia is truly beyond rationality,” he adds.

Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum in Washington agrees “the passage of SB1070 actually harms the economy."

Meanwhile, the Georgia bill that passed this week in the state Senate and House may never actually be enforced, says Azadeh Shahshahani of the ACLU’s branch in Georgia. She is “confident that if HB 87 succeeds in turning Georgia into ‘show me your papers’ territory, it will not withstand legal challenge.”

But that doesn’t mean the law won’t first affect Mexican opinion of the US. "By legislating discrimination," the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund wrote in a statement Thursday, "this bill would undermine Georgia's history and image."

Such "measures focused on criminalizing migrants open possibilities for undue law enforcement practices and racial profiling," the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta said in a statement earlier this month, highlighting a detrimental affect on "friendship, trade, culture and tourism links."

IN PICTURES: The scene at the US/Mexico border

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