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By The Time I Get To Arizona

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

There is no beating around the bush with this one; Arizona’s changes to its immigration policy (S.B. 1070) mandate state sponsored affirmative action. As a writer, you always try to find a new angle on a story like this to avoid rehashing, but the provisions in this bill are so straight-forward there are few other conclusions you can come up with.

For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.

That is the main offending section, and it is obvious why it has caused so much controversy. Note that this amendment does not suggest that the officer has to encounter a crime in commission, but merely make “lawful contact” to challenge a person’s citizenship provided “reasonable suspicion” that the person is there illegally. Defenders of this bill argue that its critics are being reactionary and the “lawful contact” requires law enforcement to already be engaged with a person in a police matter such as a traffic stop. While they may wish to read it that way, such restrictions are not spelled out in this bill.

Critics have argued that this bill, particularly in the context of repeated debates in the state of Arizona, and the immediate fallout of the death of Arizona native Rob Krentz being linked to illegal immigration, is simply using code language to openly discriminate against anyone with brown skin. Even going with the supposition that “lawful contact” has justifiable (if unstated) safeguards, the overly broad catch-all of “reasonable suspicion” is equally problematic. What actions would one take that would generate suspicion of being in the United States illegally? Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was quick to deny claims of profiling, reaffirming that such actions are against the law, but if we are eliminating ethnicity, what exactly will law enforcement be looking for? If you believe California Republican Brian Bilbray, “there is different type of attire, there is different type of — right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes,”

Some supporters of the bill are even less discrete about its implications. Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandano of neighboring Nevada was clear on his opinion, “Profiling is the single greatest tool of law enforcement,”. The Mayor continued, “We train officers, we train law enforcement, we train even those TSA people to look for people who look like bad guys, that’s profiling, that’s what we do, that’s how we get it done.”

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons tried to tread a little softer stating he felt profiling could be used for suspicion of terrorism, “absolutely we ought to profile everybody that looks like a terrorist. I don’t have a problem with that,” Gibbons said. “But if they want to have a racial profile of Irishmen, you know, then I’m going to question that.”

Somehow I don’t think the irony and hypocrisy of that statement has hit him yet. Once you look at all these factors it becomes clear that legislators are certainly open to profiling based on what someone “looks like” or if they “look like bad guys”; and given the ethnic makeup of Arizona and its strong Latino population the outrage both locally and nationally is well warranted.

In this context, the fear of a police state and disdain for increased enforcement on the mandate that any non-naturalized resident have their registration paperwork at all times, are more justified than anything President Obama has supposedly done. I’m not the only one who feels more than a little disturbed by forcing a minority population to carry papers to prove they should not be locked up.

And where are the voices on the right that accused Obama and democrats of “forcing a bill down the people’s throats,”? Gov. Brewer’s spokesperson estimates that of the over 15,000 calls to her office about 85% were against the bill. Or do we only legislate through select polls when Fox approves the statistics? The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has even come out against the bill despite being the ones the legislation claims to be helping. The Fraternal Order of Police in Arizona supported the bill, but not without expressing concerns over the costs it may incur.

Speaking of costs, S.B. 1070 gives citizens the right to sue the state if they feel its provisions are not being followed properly. However, were they to win after court costs and lawyers fees are repaid, the award determined by the court would then be paid to… the immigration intelligence fund. Now that’s what i call accountability.

The silver lining in this is that this piece of legislation may force President Obama to immediately address immigration reform on the federal level. Between now and then, one can only hope that common sense will prevail over emotional governing and bills like this are defeated.

Read the bill in its entirety here. [pdf]

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