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Arizona Immigration Law Spotlights Racial Profiling

April 25, 2010
Protests against Arizona immigration bill

Protests against Arizona bill/ Franklin for AP

Thanks to a new state law passed Friday that has rapidly earned national attention and a rebuke from President Obama, Arizona will soon require its police officers to detain anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant and demand immigration papers. It is unclear exactly what the police are supposed to base their suspicions on, because according to the New York Times, Governor Jan Brewer has promised that racial profiling won’t be tolerated and police will “have proper training to carry out the law.” Presumably this training will include some sort of ESP lessons so that officers may guess a subject’s citizenship while blindfolded.

The new law is of course intended to address Arizona’s largely Latino illegal immigrant population.  It goes without saying that a lot of Latino and human rights groups are denouncing this law, which has the potential to cast a guilty-until-proven-innocent suspicion over all people in the state who appear to be of Latino origin. (I know in many parts of the country such an attitude toward Latino people already exists, places where I’ve heard people commonly use ‘Mexican’ as a blanket term for all Latino people while pronouncing the word as if it were a slur).

The New York Times describes the stipulations of the bill:

While police demands of documents are common on subways, highways and in public places in some countries, including France, Arizona is the first state to demand that immigrants meet federal requirements to carry identity documents legitimizing their presence on American soil.

It requires police officers, “when practicable,” to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment.

It also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.

Such statues generally make neighborhoods more dangerous for immigrants and locals alike by increasing mistrust of the police within the Latino community, as the Associated Press explains:

Current law in Arizona and most states doesn’t require police to ask about the immigration status of those they come across, and many departments prohibit officers from inquiring out of fear immigrants won’t report crime or cooperate in other investigations.

In a post last month GAB’s Colleen highlighted the consequences of having no access to police resources for one woman illegal immigrant:

Blanca had been the victim of domestic violence at the hands of her partner for several years. I will not go into details but the abuse was brutally physical and psychological and she lived in constant fear of losing her life.

Blanca never went to the police about the abuse even though she came close to losing her life on several occasions. In many states, including some parts of New York, those who contact the police for help can be questioned about their immigration status. If she had been discovered living in the US without permission, she would have been deported. Her son had been born with a heart defect and received therapy and close monitoring from a doctor in New York. If she had been deported, she would have had to choose between leaving her children in the care of their violent father or bringing them with her and endangering the health, and possibly risking the life, of her son.

In a powerful Washington Post editorial, Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix argues that while illegal immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed, this should be done through national reform:

The opponents of S.B. 1070 will continue to work with Washington to permanently secure the Arizona border, where last year 500,000 illegal immigrants were apprehended. Our aim is nothing short of comprehensive immigration reform, a new policy that cracks down on predators and criminals who have entered the United States illegally even as it establishes a path to legal residency for law-abiding immigrant neighbors who want nothing more than the chance to earn a paycheck and live a productive life.

In a country that at least sometimes tries to pride itself as humanitarian and post-racial (however ironic this may be), Arizona’s law should not be tolerated. It will likely be challenged as unconstitutional. See Alternet’s suggestions of ways to voice opposition to this law.

  1. Amy Littlefield permalink*
    April 26, 2010 12:56 pm

    Thanks for calling attention to this terrifying law, Erin. I think it says something that many law enforcement officials in Arizona were actually opposed to this law, because of the mandate that it gives police to spend their time hunting down undocumented immigrants who might pose no safety threat to anyone. While police across the country have been demanding documentation from people who look Hispanic ILLEGALLY for years, it seems unbeliavable that such practices are now legally sanctioned in Arizona. Perhaps the greatest hope now is that the federal government might intervene:


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