No one denies that immigration is in need of reform. I live near the border; drug crimes, kidnapping and violence seep across in Southern California, too. We endure freeway checkpoints with many miles of backups, and hiking in the Otay Mountains will get you a close look and maybe an interview by a Border Patrol officer in a jeep, regardless of your color. But living in a part of the country where Spanish is more deeply rooted than English, I'm also well aware of our mutual history with Mexico. I know that many of the undocumented are hard working folks more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime. And I'm further aware that many legal citizens and legal residents are naturalized Spanish speakers and are indistinguishable from those without legal permission to be here. Which, frankly, leads to an ugly pocket of racism against Latinos here in the Southwest that burbles out regularly.
Arizona wants to eliminate undocumented aliens. The problem is that it is impossible to come up with a "reasonable" basis that someone is an alien that doesn't include racial profiling. All this law states is they must have "reasonable suspicion". Not a crime-in-progress. What's reasonable suspicion? (Just ask yourself: do you think the Arizona State Police will demand the identity papers of a blue eyed Caucasian with a Danish accent?)
Republican Michael Gerson notes
This law creates a suspect class, based in part on ethnicity, considered guilty until they prove themselves innocent. It makes it harder for illegal immigrants to live without scrutiny -- but it also makes it harder for some American citizens to live without suspicion and humiliation. Americans are not accustomed to the command "Your papers, please," however politely delivered. The distinctly American response to such a request would be "Go to hell," and then "See you in court."The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the result (racial profiling), and looks to the source:
The government of Arizona, it turns out, has been ambushed by its own legislature. If this vague law is applied vigorously, the state will be regularly sued by citizens who are wrongfully stopped. But if the law is not applied vigorously enough, it contains a provision allowing citizens to sue any agency or official who "limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws."
We all know what the outcome of all this double-talk will be. People with brown skin – regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens or legal residents – will be forced to prove their legal status to law enforcement officers time and again. One-third of Arizona’s population – those who are Latino – will be designated as second-class citizens, making anyone with brown skin a suspect even if their families have called Arizona home for generations.Andrew Sullivan writes:
Given the authors of this law, no one should be surprised about its intended targets. The law was drafted by a lawyer for the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose founder has warned of a “Latin onslaught” and complained about Latinos’ alleged low “educability.” FAIR has accepted $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, a racist foundation that was set up by Nazi sympathizers to fund studies of eugenics, the science of selective breeding to produce a “better” race. The legislation was sponsored by state Senator Russell Pearce, who once e-mailed an anti-Semitic article from the neo-Nazi National Alliance website to supporters.
I do think that making an entire sub-population afraid of all cops is unfair to the population and to the cops. It's corrupting of a free society. And I think the "reasonable suspicion" clause is reminiscent of Jim Crow: Arizonans are demanding that their police officers deem every Hispanic guilty until proven innocent.AZ Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been doing this kind of action already in his county. Basically what this law does is extend Arpaio's approach to the entire state. Here are a couple of examples of what this means.
From the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona 2 years ago, we learn that the Sheriff interrupted a confirmation service in a Roman Catholic Church. On Good Friday, he set up a command post with a SWAT team less than a block away from a Spanish speaking church to harass and intimidate the worshipers.
Another blogger tells
A Hispanic Episcopalian was pulled over recently and asked to show his papers. He was born and raised in the U.S. and had his valid Arizona driver’s license with him but that wasn’t good enough for the deputies since they’ve seen “too many fakes.” So now he, and others like him, are avoiding church because the congregations are afraid of detainment or harassment by over-zealous deputies.
And then there is a comment to this blogpost:
I know of one Episcopal friend who was pulled over last year. She had recently received her paperwork and produced it upon demand - not request. The officer's attitude badly scared her and she reverted to her native Spanish. The officer said her paperwork was obviously fake (it wasn't) and that it was illegal to speak Spanish in Arizona (it's not). She was held for what I think was seven hours until her status was verified.Seven hours in jail for the crime of having your legal papers while driving. Terrorized from attending Church. I don't think Jesus said "Feed my sheep, but only if they are legal". I don't think Jesus checked for papers before curing the blind.
As for the argument that >60% of Arizonans support this, that is specious. That's like saying Jim Crow laws and school segregation were okay, because the majority of white Southerners approved them. Or laws against inter-racial marriage were okay, because the majority of Americans didn't want blacks and whites marrying. Or interning law abiding native born Japanese American citizens in Manzanar was okay, because a majority of Americans wanted that. A majority of Germans agreed to strip Jews of their citizenship in the 1930s.
And a majority of the crowd exhorted Pilate to release Barrabas and crucify Christ 2000 years ago.
PUsh for reform, by all means. Challenge our politicians, by all means. But remember: if you think of yourself as God's child, so must you consider the immigrants being targeted by Sheriff Arpaio as God's children too. And treating them like this, whether legal or illegal--it's not very Christian, is it?
Update: Arizona has edited the law.