SB 1070, Immigrants, African Americans, and People with Disabilities – A Historical Perspective

Written by Patrick Cokley for Day in Washington.


Unidos En Arizona - Photos by OneMillion

Unless you retired to the nearest bomb shelter or sensory deprivation device for the past week, it is likely that you have heard about the newest immigration plans from the State of Arizona (SB 1070). This latest law that has been crafted by one of the Union's most racially insensitive states has brought down the ire of every liberal commentator, civil rights wonk and political pundit in a 5000 mile radius. The topic itself is a recipe for controversy. Take one part State with a significant population divide between White citizens and Latinos, add a quart of underfunding for border/immigration issues, mix in a cup of media reported insensitivity and finally garnish with the fact that Arizona took longer than any state to adopt the MLK Holiday, and suddenly we have Racial Insensitivity Pie.

Personally, I am not totally surprised at Arizona's behavior. As Americans we have had a proud history of becoming incensed with a certain group in our population, deciding that their presence is a detriment to our way of life and ultimately thinking of some hand-wringing-Snidely Whiplash-Rube Goldberg-political device for further marginalizing them and distancing them from real Americans. This is no real surprise. I am, however taken aback by two significant points.

The first is the sincere lack of imagination of the new law.

Though the latest attempt by Arizona to curb their concerns about the influence of a large illegal immigrant population on their state is a new instrument, it certainly is playing an old tune.

From the Mid 1800s to the late 1970s cities including San Francisco, Chicago, Omaha, Columbus, and others created ugly laws€”or statutes that made it possible to arrest and press charges against a person with a physically apparent disability for being out in public. The first Ugly Law was enacted in San Francisco in 1867 as a

Woman with Blind Sign

Ugly Laws - Disability in Public by Susan Schweik

response to individuals who acquired their disability as a result of mining accidents during the gold rush. The connection to mining however was just a starting point as individuals with disabilities of varying significance could find themselves on the wrong side of the law simply for walking down the street.

The original purpose of the Ugly Laws was not to specifically disenfranchise individuals with disabilities, rather they were created ensure that communities were safe, clean environments for the local citizenry. In practice, however they served as a green card (pun intended) for law enforcement to detain individuals with disabilities and added to the societal stigma of disability by encouraging families to send individuals with disabilities to institutions or keep them inside the home. Like SB 1070 these laws were often very broad reaching, and those targeted for prosecution of violating the ordinances were largely the poor and destitute.

An additional part of the immigrant legislation allows officers to arrest immigrants unable to show documents proving they're legally in the

Slave with Pack Escaping

Slave Ecaping Woodcut

country. Again this proves to be unimaginative. Not only was this technique used specifically to keep Black Freedmen in their place during the Dark days of slavery it also continued informally after emancipation in the form of Sundown Towns in which Black people were legally not permitted in city limits after certain hours for the communities (and mostly their own) safety. Additionally I find myself unable to shake the suspicion that certain immigrant looking Americans may suddenly find themselves deported due to their forgetfulness to carry their birth certificates or naturalization papers. This also took place in the past where Freedmen were often abducted from Free cities and states only to find themselves sold into slavery.

Even though SB 1070 is being portrayed as the textual modern-day Latin Apocalypse I do not find myself surprised by its creation. Whomever penned the bill obviously believes that Arizona's immigration problem is related to enforcement. A significant portion of the Bill is aimed at the police, and though they may not wish to assert all of the powers that have been included in the text, you can be sure that they will eventually take advantage of the legal opportunities the bill offers them.

The second point that totally surprises me is my reaction and that is of unadulterated glee. I find myself downright giddy of the fact that Arizona has yet again attempted to legislate an undesirable population out of its state borders. The so called powers that be were likely very smug about their slight to former the Governor and the Latinos in the State, but rather than mobilizing the goose-stepping masses to their cause they have found a wall of opposition all but led by the President himself.

As I mentioned earlier, the sort of legislation found in SB 1070 is not new. It has been attempted many times over and re-used, reutilized, recycled and repackaged many times over. America has seen it in the Anti Indian Sentiment in the settlement of the West, the native

Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights

American regulations to push out immigrants at the turn of the 20th Century, Jim Crow Laws, the Anti Chinese Leagues of the West, the Japanese Internment of the World War II era, the institutionalization of individuals with disabilities, all the way to the Anti-Muslim sentiment of Post 9/11. Irish, Italian, Greek, Jewish, Black, Chinese, Japanese, Hmong and Native American have all been at the business end of legislation, regulation, and law with the intent of providing America with a clean upstanding society, and yet somehow all of those groups are still here. (Not only are they still present, but are slowly moving into their own halls of power where — if they are lucky — they may take their turn at that American tradition of marginalizing another group.) Even the Great State of Arizona who has provided us with all this fun finally had to swallow the bitter pill of their own pride and formally adopt the Martin Luther King Holiday.

So go on Arizona. Go on and continue to use outdated and antiquated practices to solve your illegal immigrations problems. Continue to think that the methods of divisiveness and derision will lead you to your desert Utopia. Continue the broad marginalization and you will indeed find an end to illegal immigration when the immigrants eventually vote you out.

Patrick Cokley is a crazed maniac who hastily penned a blog when Day in Washington's Back was turned. He continues his own rants under the moniker the Angry Negro and can be found at