October 20, 2016
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Human Rights Watch: Arizona Violating Human Rights Treaty

New Immigration Law Contrary to Binding International Anti-Racism Measure


(San Francisco) – Arizona’s new immigration law violates an international anti-racism treaty that is binding on all government officials in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today.

Key provisions of the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” enacted by Arizona on April 23, 2010, conflict with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the United States ratified in 1994, Human Rights Watch said.


“LWL – living while Latino – has become hazardous in Arizona,” said Alison Parker, US director at Human Rights Watch. “Arizona’s governor and law enforcement officials should know that with this law, they are violating an international treaty.”

Under the new law, police officers will be empowered to stop and interrogate any person whom they “reasonably suspect” might be in the United States illegally. The law includes provisions allowing Arizona residents who believe the local police are not enforcing the law vigorously enough to sue a city or town. As a result, police officers will be under pressure to make an arrest, even when in doubt, rather than risk a lawsuit, resulting in wrongful arrests and unfair enforcement, Human Rights Watch said.

While Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has required training for police officers to prevent “racial profiling” – acting on the basis of racial or ethnic characteristics – police will have little to go on other than an individual’s appearance when choosing whom to stop. People of Latino descent, whether US citizens, legal residents, or undocumented persons, will be most at risk.

The Convention against Racial Discrimination requires the federal and all state and local governments to ensure that their immigration policies do not have the effect of discriminating against persons on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin. This includes ensuring that non-citizens enjoy equal protection and recognition before the law. The US government is prohibited from engaging in acts or the practice of racial discrimination against persons or groups of persons and must “ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation.”


In January, the US State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Koh, wrote to all state governors, including Arizona’s Brewer, making them aware of their obligations under the anti-racism treaty. Human Rights Watch had similarly written to Arizona’s attorney general in 2007 about the state’s obligations under the treaty.

Human Rights Watch called on the Arizona legislature to revoke the “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” In the meantime, the federal government should take all appropriate steps to ensure that provisions of the law that violate US treaty obligations are not enforced, Human Rights Watch said. Any future federal legislation on immigration should include strong human rights safeguards, including fair treatment for non-citizens facing deportation and prohibitions against arbitrary detention.

“There are plenty of valid objections to Arizona’s new immigration law,” Parker said. “One that hasn’t received much attention is that it violates an international anti-racism treaty that Arizona state officials are obligated to uphold.”

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