SB 1070 Is Now in Effect: Meet an Arizona DREAMer Who Embodies the Struggle Between Obama and Jan Brewer Over Immigration Policy

PHOTO: Carlos Martínez graduates.Courtesy of Carlos Martínez
Carlos Martínez graduates from University of Arizona with a master's degree in 2005.

Seven years after earning a master's degree in software engineering at the University of Arizona, Carlos Martínez, now 30, can finally start sending out resumes.

As an undocumented immigrant -- his family brought him to Arizona from Mexico when he was nine -- he has never been able to work legally. On Saturday, however, Martínez found out that he is one of the first undocumented young people to be approved for deferred action, a new Obama administration program that will allow people like him to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation.

For Martínez, the news is particularly poignant: He lives in Tucson, Arizona, one of the places where SB 1070, the state's so-called "show me your papers" law, went into effect today. The law mandates that police ask people they've stopped about their immigration status when "reasonable suspicion" exists.

Now that Martínez has deferred action, he won't need to worry about those stops, but that doesn't mean the law won't impact him. He has family members who are undocumented.

"It could be a routine stop by the cops and they can ask you for your immigration status," Martínez said. "It's pretty scary."

Civil rights groups have tried to slow the enactment of SB 1070, claiming that it will cause "irreparable harm" to minority groups, including Latinos. But despite a last-ditch plea to a federal appeals court, police will begin enforcing the law immediately.

That will put Arizonans like Martínez and his family at the crossroads of the country's immigration debate. At the same time that Martínez is benefitting from an executive order by President Obama, his family members may be more likely to be deported under SB 1070, a state-level initiative backed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

The struggle between the White House and Jan Brewer is hardly new: Obama's Justice Department filed the lawsuit that halted SB 1070 back in 2010, and, as a result, the law went to the Supreme Court this June, where justices found three of its four provisions unconstitutional. The high court allowed one provision to go forward, though -- that which requires police to ask about immigration status.

As a result, the two largest immigration policy initiatives since Reagan's 1986 amnesty are gripping Arizona simultaneously. While the first crop of DREAMers wait for their work permits to arrive in the mail, Arizona police are adding "papers, please" to their law-enforcement repertoire. While Dreamers open businesses and interview for jobs, undocumented immigrants pulled over for broken tail lights will face deportation.

The Obama-Brewer conflict has also spilled over into how deferred action recipients will be treated in the Grand Canyon state. While nearby California is considering a proposal to grant Dreamers access to driver's licenses, Brewer issued an executive order in August reinforcing a state law that prohibits non-citizens from receiving licenses. The governor is simply standing by the law as it's written, says Brewer spokesperson Matthew Benson.

"I think we're all concerned about the issue of unlicensed motorists being on the roads; that's a problem not only in Arizona, but across the country," Benson said. "But at the same time, the governor doesn't have the option of pretending that state law doesn't exist, or only enforcing the laws that we agree with."

That's a subtle dig at Obama. Unlike SB 1070, which became a law after it was passed by the Arizona state legislature, Obama's deferred action policy was a unilateral move made in lieu of the DREAM Act, a related bill that has floundered in Congress for more than a decade. While Obama has been able to mobilize the Justice Department on his behalf and had the backing of the Supreme Court in the SB 1070 ruling, he hasn't been able to win adequate support for a federal immigration bill on Capitol Hill.

That means a mixed bag for Arizona residents like Carlos Martínez, who can now come out of the shadows, but without the rights that accompany citizenship. "If I get a job offer in California, I'd rather go over there," he said. "It's more welcoming."