By Curtis Prendergast
The Arizona House of Representatives began to consider the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, better known as Senate Bill 1070, in late March 2010. Arizona was engulfed in the immigration debate for the rest of the summer. The news media in Arizona fed this debate with more than a thousand articles about the law. Three newspapers were selected for this analysis: the Arizona Republic, the Arizona Daily Star, and the Nogales International. Below is a brief explanation of SB 1070 followed by links to the dominant narratives that emerged in the news coverage of the law.
SB 1070 comes onstage
“What was new about SB 1070 was the state-level prosecution,” said Gabriel “Jack” Chin, professor in the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. Prior to SB 1070, local law enforcement could call a federal immigration agency when they detained someone and suspected they were illegally in the United States. With SB 1070, local law enforcement would be required to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected of being in the country illegally. SB 1070 made it a state crime, in addition to a federal crime, to be in the country illegally.
In addition, SB 1070 contained other “attrition through enforcement” provisions. For example, the law made it illegal for day laborers to solicit work if it interfered with traffic.
Opposition to the bill emerged as soon as it was introduced into the Arizona Legislature. After Gov. Brewer signed the bill lawsuits were filed by civil rights groups, police officers in Tucson and Phoenix, and eventually by the U.S. Department of Justice. These lawsuits resulted in an injunction by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton on July 28, the day before the law was to take effect. This injunction blocked key provisions of the bill, but allowed other provisions to become law. Currently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering an appeal filed by the state of Arizona to overturn Judge Bolton’s injunction.
SB 1070 Raises the Intensity
In addition to being the source of a prolonged legal battle, the bill struck a personal chord with Arizonans and people living throughout the country. Critics said: “The measure would turn legal residents into police targets, as well as those who are here illegally. It would foment racial profiling of Hispanics” (Arizona Daily Star, 04/16/10, Editorial). Supporters of SB 1070 said: “As a country, we cannot be the savior of all. Our obligation, as a country, is to its legal citizens. It is absolutely imperative we control our borders for our own survival” (Arizona Daily Star, 05/01/10, Letters to the Editor). In between these viewpoints were a variety of opinions, with many expressing disgust for the “present hysteria” surrounding the SB 1070 debate (Arizona Daily Star, 05/26/10, Letters to the Editor).
The SB 1070 debate was the most recent example of immigration becoming the focus of national attention. Other recent examples were the nationwide immigrants’ rights protests of 2006, the efforts by Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, and local ordinances in Hazleton, Penn. in 2006 that sanctioned employers and landlords for hiring or renting to undocumented immigrants.
SB 1070 raised the debate to another level of intensity.
This intensity led to harsh rhetoric and actions on both sides of the debate. For example, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) was forced to close his offices in Yuma and Tucson after his staff received threats of violence (Arizona Daily Star, 04/23/10). In addition, the signing of the bill sparked a debate not only in Arizona, but across the country over immigrant rights, border security, and state power vs. federal power. As the debate expanded, other state legislatures proposed ‘copycat’ bills that would enact provisions similar to those contained in SB 1070. This process occurred in cities as far away as Boston (The New York Times, 04/30/10).
Narratives in News Coverage of SB 1070
News coverage of SB 1070 coalesced around a set of ten dominant narratives, such as the boycott of Arizona by opponents of SB 1070. During April 2010, the Arizona Daily Star, the Arizona Republic, and the Nogales International published a total of 176 articles that dealt with SB 1070. These ten narratives combined for 156 of the total 176 articles published by these newspapers on SB 1070. These narratives were: the Death of Robert Krentz, SB 1070 in the Arizona Legislature, Reactions, Protests, Public Opinion Polls, Boycotts, SB 1070 in Political Campaigns, the interactions between Gov. Brewer and President Obama over SB 1070, Opinion, and Lawsuits,.
The narratives are listed below. The titles are links that take you to the actual news articles.
The death of Robert Krentz, a rancher from Cochise County, on March 27, 2010 played a key role in the development of SB 1070 as a potential law and as a source of debate. Krentz was killed on March 27 on his ranch while trying to provide humanitarian aid to a group of illegal immigrants. Authorities have yet to identify the killer. Even still, his death came to symbolize a failure by the federal government to secure the border. The Krentz killing was cited frequently in news reports as an event that precipitated both SB 1070 and the deployment of the National Guard on the Arizona-Sonora border in August 2010.
The consideration and passage of the bill in the Arizona Legislature resulted in the first explicit mentions of “SB 1070″ in news coverage. Coverage of SB 1070 in the Legislature began on April 14 when the bill was approved by the state House. The bill was approved by the Senate on April 19. Governor Brewer signed the bill into law on April 23. Following the uproar over the new law, the state House voted to change the language of the bill to prohibit racial profiling on April 28. News coverage of SB 1070 in the Arizona Legislature in April concluded with the end of the legislative session.
Reactions to the law were covered by the Arizona news media more than any other SB 1070 related story. Newspapers covered reactions by local residents, law enforcement, a variety of local and federal government officials, University of Arizona officials and students, illegal and legal immigrants, the New York Times editorial board, the Cardinal for Los Angeles, comedians, musicians and artists.
News coverage of the reactions to SB 1070 began on April 6 with a Letter to the Editor from a reader who had heard on the radio that the state Legislature was considering the bill that would later become SB 1070. Subsequent articles detailed the responses of both critics and supporters of the law. Critics pointed to the danger of racial profiling, economic costs, and the chilling effect Sb 1070 might have on law enforcement. Supporters of the law cited a lack of border security and immigration enforcement by the federal government, the hysteria on the part of opponents to the law, and the need to wait for the law to take effect before making any judgments.
News coverage of the reactions to SB 1070 in April concluded with a dozen articles on April 30, in which there were more articles about opponents of the law than supporters. In the following weeks supporters began to receive increasing news coverage, but opponents were the primary subject of the first few weeks of news coverage.
Protests were also a major part of the news coverage of SB 1070. Although many of the protests covered by Arizona newspapers occurred within the state, protests in California, Colorado, and other states, as well as in Mexico, were also included in the news coverage. Protesters included high school and college students, activists, recently deported migrants, national civil rights leaders, and baseball fans. News coverage of SB 1070 protests in April concluded with preparations for the national May 1 protests and marches.
SB 1070 was one of the most controversial topics of conversation in Arizona during the summer of 2010. Public opinion, measured by man-on-the-street interviews and polls, was frequently cited in news articles. As early as April 22 poll results indicated that a majority of Arizonans approved of SB 1070. National polls also indicated that a majority of Americans supported the law. Polls also tracked the progress of political candidates. News coverage of SB 1070 polls concluded with an article about the Republican Party worrying that SB 1070 might hurt them on a national scale.
As soon as SB 1070 was signed by Gov. Brewer on April 23, local governments, activist groups and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) announced that they planned a variety of boycotts of Arizona. These boycotts came to include a “Sound Strike” by musicians from across the country who said they would not play in Arizona. National organizations canceled conventions in Arizona, as called for by Grijalva. The makers of Arizona Iced Tea felt the need to issue a press release saying they were not from Arizona, but New York state. News coverage in April of boycotts inspired by SB 1070 concluded with a growing movement to counter the boycott with a “buycott” by SB 1070 supporters across the country.
State and national political campaigns unfolded simultaneously with the SB 1070 debate. Immigration and border security are perennial political issues in Arizona and SB 1070 only intensified their importance. Politicians were frequently asked about their stance regarding SB 1070 and the issue came to define some campaigns, such as that of Gov. Brewer.
Reporters covered the role of SB 1070 in the political campaigns of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Maricopa County attorney, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), state Senators and Representatives, Arizona sheriffs, Governor Brewer, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), as well as state propositions. News coverage of the role of SB 1070 in political campaigns in April concluded with Giffords voicing her frustration with the federal government about border security and the Republican Party worried about the potential damage of SB 1070 in the upcoming elections.
One part of the national drama of SB 1070 revolved around Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and President Barack Obama. News coverage of their interactions began with the passing of SB 1070 by the Arizona Legislature. Coverage included casting SB 1070 as “the toughest immigration law in U.S.,” border security funding, the reaction of President Obama to the law, and Governor Brewer’s reaction to critics of the law.
This drama was the most current episode of the rising tensions between state and federal government. This tension exists on nearly every political front, such as in the debate over gay marriage. In the case of Arizona, the international border it shares with the Mexican state of Sonora and the estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants living in Arizona are constant sources of conflict with the federal government.
Commentators from Arizona and across the country weighed in on the SB 1070 debate. Among those who gave their opinion on SB 1070 were the Editorial Boards of the three newspapers and that of the New York Times, and Rev. Al Sharpton, Shakira. News coverage of opinions on SB 1070 in April concluded with dozens of Letters to the Editor from regular people.
As soon as the law was signed by Gov. Brewer on April 23, local governments and activist groups announced that they planned to file lawsuits against SB 1070. News coverage of lawsuits over SB 1070 included lawsuits alleging that the law violated both the civil rights of Hispanics and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. These lawsuits were filed by clergy, civil rights groups, and police officers. The federal government eventually sued Arizona on July 6. News coverage also included the possibility of lawsuits against local law enforcement in Phoenix, Tucson, and Nogales should the law take effect. News coverage of SB 1070 lawsuits in April concluded with the first steps towards a federal lawsuit against the state of Arizona.