Academics Speak Out Against SB 1070


As the reality of Arizona’s new law sanctioning the active policing and potential harassing of people of color based on “looking like an immigrant” sinks in, unintended effects are registering across the state. While the university system has been hemorrhaging under the weight of the current economic downturn, communities around college campuses know that we bring in a steady flow of new consumers to the communities in which we are situated. Students not only buy basic goods like food and clothing at local establishments, but they also pay rent, buy large ticket items like cars, electronics, and in some cases, houses. One needs only go to a college town mid-Summer and then again at the start of the school year to see the impact. Part of what draws these students to a particular institution are programs and faculty in fields that excite them and with scholars whose recognition goes beyond the college itself. When Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, she failed to recognize the import of academe in the local economies in the state of Arizona. More than that, the legislation itself includes language that actively negates successful programs and calls into question others.

Arizona’s Higher Ed

Arizona colleges, which have an extremely high population of Latin@ students, staff, and faculty have all been re-acting to SB 1070 with varying degrees of condemnation. Prior to the passing of the bill, The President of Arizona State University, the state’s largest university,  urged Governor Brewer not to sign the bill on the basis of its potential to enact discrimination and turn people away from Arizona as a viable place both to study and live. (scroll down past blank ends of pages to get to the rest of the post text; sorry for copy quality):

After Jan Brewer ignored him and everyone else who expressed concern to make the bill law, the President of University of Arizona, has already gone on record about the immediate negative impact SB 1070 has had on the State’s second largest educational facility. Among the issues he raises are:

  1. the loss of new enrollment as parents and students withdraw their acceptances of admissions decisions already sent out
  2. the loss of current enrollment due to students choosing to look elsewhere for safer educational environments and taking a year off to do so
  3. the loss of future enrollment as families of both students and faculty consider education in the 49 other states available to them
  4. the loss of lucrative (and potentially expensive) hires that have already been done as faculty lured to the state with already paid packages start looking elsewhere
  5. the loss of prestige for Arizona based universities leading to the further leeching of current faculty and staff and the impossibility of attracting new ones

While many in this nation have been trained to think of higher education as a luxury for over-indulged students living on the taxpayer’s dime, the reality is that education is a critical aspect of our economy. People who attend college

  1. make more money
  2. have better job security

More than that, people with better job security tend to stay and contribute to the health and economic stability of a community through

  1. investment in schools, industry, and products
  2. use of services provided from large employers like hospitals and schools
  3. buy big ticket items like houses and cars
  4. spur investment not only through demand for goods and services but also providing the money that banks use to grow capital

So while they image of the over-privileged, useless egghead, 7 year Freshman serves a conservative backlash against higher education, it does very little to benefit the real economy of communities based around colleges and universities. Moreover, the number of people entering college is increasing exponentially as the economy continues to fall apart. While some students are on financial aid, it is important to remember that some students are paying full or partial tuition out of pocket and that money as well the demand for good services and potential long term community investment these students represent all go benefit the State.

In other words, what Arizona’s SB 1070 crafters have done is leverage the State’s educational institutions and all the potential economic and social capital they provide against an image they believe will garner favor with the neo-conservative elements of the state and national Republican party and potentially catapult the careers of AZ Republicans on the backs of AZ citizens and students.


May 6 Protest at ASU/unattributed

The second potential major loss of revenue for the state related to the economy has to do with conferences, conventions, and research funding. Almost ever Department, field of study, and sub-genre in academe has an annual conference attached. These conferences represent major economic gain for the states and communities in which they are held. Like the tourism dollars that float small island economies, academic conferences represent a substantial portion of a state’s budget. Moreover, certain cities and states have such long term ties to these conferences that the revenue they generate are part of the budget.

Not only do national conference rotate through Arizona at least once every three years, but regional conferences may occur even more often. Added to these conferences cycles are the number of symposiums, summer research “seminars”, and local conferences put on by Arizona colleges themselves. We could even include recent pushes to create internationally recognized research centers which would likely hold their own conferences and do have lucrative seminars with outside scholars. Arizona State University recently spent a considerable amount of money creating and advertising their new Social Justice MA program for instance, which included lucrative hiring packages for faculty who will now be racially profiled under SB 1070; while, University of AZ houses the Hispanic Center for Excellence, a Federally Funded program designed to train Latin@ physicians in order to increase the number of Latin@s in medicine and cultural competence of medical providers nationwide. Both of these programs cost that state a considerable amount to implement and will cost even more in economic and social losses were they to fail as a result of SB 1070.

Courses & Censorship

One of the more insidious aspects of SB 1070 is the successful run around Arizona voters with regards to education. After several failed attempts to pass a law designed to put an end to Raza Studies at the high school level and open the door to removing and/or censoring lesson plans about Latin@s in the schools, the AZ legislature tacked similar policies to SB 1070 and plans to use the passing of the law to open the door to re-introducing a bill to end Ethnic Studies all together. As a result, not only are the higher education programs mentioned above under threat through racial profiling but one of the most successful programs in increasing retention and graduation rates of Latino students and cross-cultural cooperation in Tuscon United school district is likely to be shut down despite repeated defeat of such attempts by voters in the past.

The current bill includes provisions for review and removal of teachers whose “English” is “sub-standard” without actually determining what that means or how it will be measured. It is common for students to complain that professors of color, especially those perceived to be from cultures or backgrounds in which English is not a first language, are incomprehensible, do not speak English well, or are otherwise sub-standard with regards to language skill. These arguments permeate at least one of the departments in which I am currently housed, where students feel free to complain about the general education requirements in math and science because ” no one in those departments speak English” and often turn in evaluations that include complaints about the language skills of the “hard graders” in our department who are brown b/c they “look like immigrants.” Never mind, that most of the faculty in our Department are native English speakers including all of the faculty who are regular targets of these complaints.

Why would any educator put up with this kind of internal policing, only to leave campus and receive it on the street or in public places when they could move somewhere else? While white supremacist Arizonans may think that a mass exodus of these teachers and their families is a good thing, they have not stopped to think about the immense amount of skill and intellect that will be lost to them as a result.

These draconian measures could literally turn some Arizona school districts into ghost towns the same way that immigration raids have done to once thriving single-business communities. Poor white students and their families, who cannot afford to move will thus be robbed of not only diverse education but also potentially any education at all. Worse, though schools may survive a mass exodus, one has to consider what kind of academics they can attract to communities that actively and publicly participate in racial profiling.

Academic Organizations

La Virgen de los Mohados/Sylvia Rodriguez/MALCs 2010

At this point, many academic organizations are weighing what kind of stance they will take with Arizona now that SB 1070 has passed. Various organizations under the American Association of Anthropologists have already begun discussing boycotts and alternative measures. While members of the American History Association and the American Studies Association have stated publicly that they will not attend conferences for their discipline if they take place in Arizona. Whether or not entire academic communities make these moves official or not, the bottom line is that many academics are willing to forego national and regional conferences to take a stand for Civil Rights and some of them have no choice since racial profiling will likely make them “look like immigrants.”

Two organizations stand out in this growing controversy: NACCS and MALCs.

MALCs, a organization of Latina, Native American, and Chicana scholars, summer institute has been set to take place mid-July in Arizona. Members of MALCs have expressed major concerns about attending, spending money, or otherwise participating in anything that has to do with the state while SB 1070 is in effect. In response, MALCs ran an online survey of its members about the conference and how to best deal with binding contracts and civil rights dissent. The survey is currently being reviewed. Among the options MALCs members are considering are:

  1. Moving the conference out of the state of Arizona and paying whatever fines are in the contracts – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  2. Holding the conference on Native American land in Arizona – ie taking major revenue away from the state while both engaging/supporting communities impacted by the law and making sure Arizonans see how much money they’ve lost
  3. Having a virtual conference – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  4. Modifying the focus of the conference to address SB 1070 and making it available to AZ community members

MALCs blog, has also included information about the general call to boycott the state. So that they are ultimately taking a stand for an informed and targeted response to civil and basic rights violations enacted by SB 1070. As part of this stance, MALCs leadership released an early statement that included the following:

Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social protests the inhumane treatment of the un-documented. Additionally, we protest SB 1070 as a back door maneuver that erodes basic democratic principles that protect us from becoming a police state

ASU’s MALCs chapter on the other hand raised the issue of being “stranded” at ground central of SB 1070 if non-Arizona based academics left educational institutions to fend for themselves:

Site Executive Committee
Position on HB 1070

The MALCS Site Executive committee at ASU recognizes the discontent and horror of progressive communities towards the Arizona state legislature; we want to
take a moment to comment on this year’s MALCS summer institute.

When the decision to bring the institute to our state and Arizona State University was made, one of the goals was to make present and visible our histories, experiences and visions as Chicanas/Latinas/Indigenous women in this particular geo-political space.

People of color and immigrants have been notoriously attacked in the state of Arizona for years. The theme of our Institute Derechos Humanos: (Re)Claiming Our Dreams Across Contested Terrains reflects this history. The contested terrain we refer to are not only geo-political spaces, but an affirmation of the struggle against the slew of anti-immigrant legislation in our state. As the call for a boycott to our state takes momentum, we want to critically address what this might mean for our institute. We will allot time in the conference to strategizing best responses to the parameters of the bill. Indeed, we have already made invitations to community activists as speakers for the thematic plenary session. And we are in the process of inviting the student activists who chained themselves to the State Capitol and got arrested as they demanded that Governor Jan Brewer veto HB 1070.

Now, more than ever we need the national community to bring support to those of us who are grounded here and to critically address what derechos humanos signifies in times of crisis. We believe it is imperative to continue to struggle against human rights violations that ensue from anti-immigrant, Indigenous, women, gay/lesbian/transgender discourses and practices. HB 1070 is the first of a nationwide effort to pass draconian immigration laws. There are ten similar bills considered in other states across the country, if we don’t fight back strong now, the battle will be significantly harder in the future. Additionally, we must continue to pressure the Obama Administration and our members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act.

We propose, if the boycott indeed goes into effect, considering this year’s institute as an autonomous space to build solidarity in what can be deemed “ground zero” in the national immigrant and human rights debate. Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow has supported students who were affected by Prop. 300 that mandate students who cannot produce a social security number to pay out-of-state tuition. We encourage MALCS members to stay at Taylor Place, and to patronize Latino owned business when they come to Arizona in efforts to show the economic power of the Chicana/Latina/Indigenous communities.

Like the other organizations, departments, and schools addressed in the previous section, MALCs Arizona runs the risk of being completely isolated while trying to fight the negative impacts of SB 1070. If enough students and faculty transfer or never attend at all, the Arizona MALCs members who may not be able to make those choices may loose one of their key places for support. The question many academics are asking in and outside of the state as they weigh is a response is deeply related to this call from Arizona MALCs, ie how to support entrenched communities while expressing deep concern and disdain for the leadership of the state and the measures they have passed to concretize inequality and discrimination in the State.


NACCs leadership has also expressed their deep concern for the impact of SB 1070 on Latin@s, Civil Rights, and intellectual freedom. In a 4 page letter, The current President of NACCS outlines some of the major misconceptions of the bill and the response NACCS membership has decided to take.  The letter argues that SB 1070 creates an “ecology of fear” through the depiction of immigrants and Latin@s in general as criminal, dangerous, and systemic drains on the economy.  It points to how the language of fear ignores the historical roots of the Latin@ and indigenous communities in Arizona dating back as far as the 1700s in order to criminalize anyone brown. This ecology of fear creates an environment of intolerance, fear, and hatred that will inevitably erupt in violence against both citizens and non-citizens alike, as it has in other communities invested in public, state sanctioned, hatred of immigrants.

The letter points to several falsehoods in anti-immigrant discourse that allowed SB 1070 to pass in the first place:

  1. Undocumented Workers pay more taxes than they receive: 6-7 billion dollars go unclaimed by immigrants who pay into the system but cannot legally take from it (Urban Institute 2005)
  2. Undocumented Workers keep Social Security afloat b/c the number of Mexican@ workers is growing while the majority of native born workers is reaching retirement age (American Chamber of Commerce 1985)
  3. Undoc Workers stimulate economic growth through demand for goods and services and entreprenuership
  4. Latin@s have the lowest unemployment rates in the country (Perryman Group 2010)

In short, the facts paint a picture of hardworking people supporting both state and national level social programs (schools, police, fire departments, social services, social security, etc.), expanding local economies through both job creation and service/product demand, and receiving very little economic gain in return. Long term workers are also more likely to invest in home ownership and community building projects than has previously been reported by those invested in white entrenchment. Thus the overall image of criminal, violent, and shiftless brown people menacing communities and draining resources is simply unsupported by bi-partisan research.

The negative image of the immigrant serves to distract workers and voters from failing state policies and diminishing economic opportunities while focusing their attention on a hate Other with limited to no responsibility for the problem.  NACCS leadership points out that SB 1070 is part of this long history of scapegoating immigrants at not only the national level but also in Arizona:

  • In 2008 – the state tried to disenfranchise Latin@ voters by claiming their documents were illegitimate, not present, or insufficient
  • AZ was at the center of the Federal Attorney scandal that saw people fired for failing to carry out unsubstantiated prosecutions against Latin@ voters

A longer history of Arizona’s xenophobia and anti-Latin@ policies can be found at Gay Prof’s blog:

In 1877, the editor of Tucson’s Spanish-language newspaper Las dos repúblicas lamented the “the attack of the [Anglo] hordes from the north . . .” Before the arrival of these white supremacists, Arizona had been part of the territory of New Mexico. For the rebel whites, though, the idea of living in a territory with a Mexican majority was anathema. They therefore separated themselves from New Mexico and created a whole new territory where they could institute a tyrannical government. (read the whole thing there)

NACCs also points out that S 1070 was written and funded through the help of long time white supremacist eugenicist organizations like the Federation for the American Immigration Reform and the Pioneer Foundation. The presence of white supremacists organizations in the drafting of the bill makes it impossible for anyone to take Jan Brewer’s statements about the bill‘s protections for civil rights and non-discrimination seriously.

Like other organizations, NACCs is calling for an immediate response by academics to the discrimination implemented by the State of Arizona including:

  1. a targeted economic boycott
  2. not scheduling national conferences in Arizona (NACCs will not hold any of their conferences there until the bill is rescended)
  3. Education and monitoring of the State



Ultimately, racist and anti-immigrant factions in Arizona failed to recognize the ways in which xenophobic racism would ultimately impact the entire state not just the brown people they hope to police. In crafting a narrative of criminality and illegality around Latin@s and Latin@ culture they also hoped to [re]inscribe a narrative of their state and the nation that are out of keeping with the actual cultural histories of both. As various parties consider what, if anything, to do in response to Arizona’s laws, one thing is clear: academics are making their voices heard in both public and private spaces. Though we have often been discounted by the far right and misrepresented by the mainstream media, the bottom line is that we do generate a considerable amount of both money and prestige for the states in which we reside. At least for some of us, the choice is clear: we will not spend our economic or intellectual capital in Arizona and ultimately that means Arizona loses more than we do.

For all of the Latin@ intellectuals in Arizona whose roots go back to before the “founding” of this nation, I can only hope that the crisis between choosing their roots and their safety is less painful than the economic and social ostracism that supremacists in the State will experience as the national tide turns.

Everyone, regardless of their perspective, should question the motives of State level leaders who are willing to leverage the livelihoods of both dominant and marginalized communities and education in their state for political points with the minority (white supremacists) who may or may not also live in that state. Other states have bent to the whims of these factions before and found the aftermath much harder to overcome than anything they might have been trying to avoid or implement. More than that, the days of public, state level, discrimination without consequence have long since past and as these academic protests point out, any state in the N. American Southwest that thinks they can ignore their own history for anti-Latin@ rhetoric is all the more delusional.

3 thoughts on “Academics Speak Out Against SB 1070

  1. I was recently accepted to Arizona State for graduate school. While I am probably “American looking/acting/sounding” enough to avoid any hassles (since I was born and raised in the US south), I just can’t stomach the thought of moving to Arizona now. How could I ask my mother or grandmother-both naturalized citizens- to ever come visit me? Would an 80 year old woman have to carry her passport with her to the grocery store?

    Sorry Arizona, you won’t be making any tax or tuition money off me….

    • It makes me sad that ppl who were excited about programs in AZ and the faculty who were excited abt them coming into those programs will all miss out b/c the ppl in power in AZ are more invested in close-minded racist politics than fair and equal governance … I hope you find a school and location that are safe for your whole family and makes you happy.

      I too won’t be going to AZ for conferences, invited lectures, or anything similar and am thanking g-d I decided against applying for the last line in one of my fields there, b/c I did consider it …

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Academics Speak Out Against SB 1070 « Like a Whisper --

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