Navajo Nation Council For Repeal of Arizona's Immigration Bill
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – The Navajo Nation Council narrowly approved a resolution last week urging the repeal of Arizona's highly controversial new immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.
The resolution sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Kee Allen Begay passed, 30-24, during a special session Tuesday of the Council, with most delegates speaking against it. A “reality check” by Fort Defiance Delegate Elmer Milford could have been a deciding factor in the resolution's passage.
Leonard Gorman of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission said Senate Bill 1070 was passed to ensure that whoever is in the state of Arizona is a citizen of the United States. Those that are not will be “placed back where they came from. That's the bottom line,” he said.
If lawsuits challenging the Arizona law are not successful, law enforcement agencies will be required to implement it at the end of July.
“What are the conditions under which a citizen can be asked for documents? A police officer can stop, detain, or arrest an individual for violating an existing law. The example we give is if you're driving in downtown Phoenix, you're going to be asked for you driver's license, your vehicle registration and your financial responsibility for your vehicle.
“The added feature is that if the law enforcement officer that stops you has reasonable suspicion that you are an illegal alien in the state of Arizona, that person will ask for various documentation,” he said.
Tuesday morning, Gorman participated in a teleconference with the Arizona Law Enforcement Training Association.
“There's a lot of questions that everybody's asking and the training officer has a lot of issues that they have not answered,” he said. For example, when the Navajo Nation authorizes rights of way on the Arizona side of the Nation along Highways 264 and 191, will the state require Navajo to execute the new law? “That is still up in the air,” he said.
Navajos arrested for suspicion of being an illegal alien will have to go through the Immigration process, he said. “That is the difficulty of this law. Even the law enforcement agencies have expressed in our teleconference this morning that it is impracticable. It will not work. It's going to clog up the Immigration system.”
Leonard Chee told constituents, “Right off the bat, I'm going to say that I support the immigration law in Arizona and my chapter, Leupp Chapter, supports it as well because of the concern about the safety of the residents.”
He said illegal aliens enter the area through Interstate 40 and the Santa Fe Railroad. “They hide out in those canyons and we're just told we can't touch them unless they commit a crime.”
Always carrying identification would solve the problem, he said, adding that it was no different than having to present ID at a bank, or for credit card purchases, airlines, or hotels.
“I think it's a small price to pay for the safety and welfare of our people. It just seems to me like because of this we're creating all kind of scare tactics and things that would help sway us to vote for it.”
Sanostee Delegate Jerry Bodie agreed. “If we disapprove, we are letting the other immigrants come into our country illegally. We're leaving the door open. Whereas, if support the state of Arizona, think of how many illegal aliens would have to be deported.
The resolution states that the new law will unfairly target Navajos and members of other tribes and is inconsistent with the Navajo Nation's support for the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Additionally, it states that the law infringes on the constitutional, civil and human rights of all indigenous peoples in the state of Arizona.
“Do we say our constitutional rights are violated when you're stopped by a Navajo Nation Police officer for going one mile over the speed limit? We don't say that. We just say, 'Yes, sir. Yes, sir,' and sign the ticket.
“I don't think it's a violation of human rights or constitutional rights to ask for their valid ID,” Bodie said. “We as a people should carry a valid ID at all times. If we're without it, it's our own fault.”
Raymond Joe maintained that the Navajo Nation should remain neutral, while Katherine Benally opposed the resolution on the grounds that jobs which could be going to young Navajos are given to illegal aliens instead.
“If they were to get documentation and pay those income taxes like we do, there won't be a problem. They'll be in the same competition with our children who are currently laid off. Those are the jobs that they're holding now,” she said.
Delegate Lorenzo Curley said the immigration law “is a very unfortunate piece of legislation that seems to single out members of certain ethnic groups.” He researched the issue of constitutionality and how the law would work.
“In our Constitution, the courts recognize that there has to be a legal basis for a stop. You can't just stop somebody based on what they look like. It has to be a legal stop and at that point in time, that's when this law becomes operational. Based on reasonable suspicion, the police officer can investigate whether you are in this country illegally or not.”
According to Begay's bill, enforcement could mean that Navajos will be subjected to increased racial profiling and harassment. However, Curley said he doesn't think that Native Americans, particularly Navajos, will be singled out.
But Elmer Milford disagreed.
“Even though we try to say not to spoil it, it's already starting to happen. On the way back from Phoenix, right around Payson, we got stopped. This police officer tried to find every kind of way to arrest us, but couldn't. First, for tinted windows. We said, 'How can you say we've got tinted windows that are too dark? Where's your tool?' He didn't have it. He said we would have to go back to Payson to get the tool. I said, 'How did you know our windows were too dark?'
“The next thing was, 'You have a busted windshield.' I said, 'Yes, we see that. If you want to give us a repair ticket for that, we'll take care of it.' He also said we were speeding. I said, 'We weren't speeding. We had our cruise control on and we were in our proper limits.'”
These things are happening right now, and they shouldn't, Milford said. “We're supposed to be in America. ... In reality, there was people that came here (United States), that are giving citations and saying other people are illegal. But they came to this country illegally, and now they took over America and what do we have? Only trust land, ladies and gentlemen.”
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