Arizona's Flawed Immigration Law
On the List of the Obvious, the recent debate regarding whether the police should have the right to ask someone they have stopped for just cause if s/he is a legal citizen -- especially if the policeman has reason to believe that person isn’t -- ranks right up there with offshore drilling. It seems especially a no-brainer if the policeman patrols an area so infested by illegal immigrants (and illegal immigrant crime) that it has turned his or her state into the kidnapping capital of America. Yet, somehow, this has become a debate, and a rather contentious one at that.
The law has been called “racist” and “worthy of Nazi Germany,” and has sparked demonstrations. Some of these demonstrations even turned violent, although much of the violence was merely Al Sharpton and other celebrities elbowing each other out of the way to get in front of the cameras. President Obama himself has found this commonsense law worthy of his attention - unlike, say, the recent Tennessee flood that killed 30 people and caused over $1 billion dollars in damage. According to Obama, the Arizona law “singles out people because of who they look like, how they talk, and how they dress." Apparently the same sort of policeman who behaved so “stupidly” in Massachusetts months ago, would now have nothing better to do than harass Hispanics over ‘taking their kid out for ice cream.’
Incredibly, even the sports world has been dragged into this. The Phoenix Suns were supposedly so ashamed of their state - and their fans, given that about 70% of them approve of this law - to wear “Phoenix” on their jerseys. If only my hometown team, the 12-70 NJ Nets, would be as ashamed of their state -- or at least make a jersey with the “NJ” but without the “Nets” part! Jesse Jackson further carried the attack on the sports world by asking MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to move the 2011 All-Star game from Arizona. Bit of a dangerous precedent, guys! This Arizona law is not going to be the only controversial law passed by a state that has a professional sports team. Are we to boycott the Lakers if California doesn’t pass a gay marriage amendment? Should the Texas Rangers just call themselves the Rangers because they are from a capital punishment state? Hopefully this is a slippery slope the sports world won’t be stepping on.
I was also amused by some of the celebrity protests of this law. Shakira, for one, made a point of going to Arizona to protest this law. If she wanted to protest the treatment of illegals from her native Colombia, why didn’t she go to Venezuela, where stories of ‘Colombian illegals being rounded and deported after having their homes and crops burned’ have been typical for decades now? Or, why doesn’t Mexican-American Linda Ronstadt, instead of protesting the treatment of illegals from Mexico, protest the treatment of illegals in Mexico, where they face some of the harshest immigration laws in the world? Why protest Americans, who are the most immigration friendly people in the world?
Despite the controversy however, the Arizona law itself falls a somewhat short of “Schlinder’s List.” The actual language of the law specifically states that a suspected illegal cannot be harassed simply for taking the niños for Ben and Jerry’s; rather, it states that the suspect can only be stopped as a result of “lawful stop, detention or arrest [which] must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.” The police, then, would need a reason for stopping someone other than thinking that he or she snuck over the border. This reason – the law also specifically states – “may not solely consider race, color or national origin;” reinforcing that the police officer has to have more of a reason to question a suspect’s citizenship other than that s/he is Hispanic.
Furthermore, this law is hardly different from the federal law. As the Washington Times reports, “Arizona's new immigration enforcement law is designed to mirror federal immigration laws already in place. Federal law mandates that aliens register and carry their documentation. Arizona's new law functions the same way.” So it seems specious that the complaint is now that the law imposes a new or undue burden on Hispanic Arizonians by asking to see their driver’s license (or some such equivalent) to prove their citizenship.
Therefore, a fair reading of the law clearly shows that any real problem with the law does not derive from the language of the law, but rather in the way the law would possibly be enforced. However, that indeed is a real problem, because, as fairly as the law may be written, it seems overly optimistic to presume that the law will always be enforced fairly.
That a police officer - through overzealousness to protect his or her community from criminal illegals, or perhaps through prejudice, or even carelessness - will stop a Hispanic without just cause in order to check his or her immigration status, seems an eventuality. Even if the law is enforced 1,000 times and the officer gets it right 99% of the time, that will still be 10 American citizens harassed for no other reason than their skin color and accent. This seems like a fair trade-off unless you find the thought of this loathsome, or you are one of those 10 Americans, or especially if you are a minority, even a minority conservative, which would make you more sensitive to this possibility; such as the initial disapproval of the law from Latino Conservatives such as Marco Rubio, and Linda Chavez. The “overzealous” scenario does not even take into account the number of times the police officer will behave properly, yet charged with abuse, nonetheless. Either scenario will result in lawsuits that will tie up the Arizona courts and cost the state millions in taxpayer dollars.
It is for this reason that I do not embrace this law, despite my belief that the intent of the law is good, and that the law is necessary. Instead of allowing police offers to check the immigration status of people those “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present,” it should be changed so that police officers are required to check the immigration status of everyone who is lawfully stopped. This would remove the ugly possibility, as well as the charges – legitimate and unfounded-- of racial profiling. Make the law similar to the procedure one must endure when entering a federal building, which is a nuisance, but no charges of discrimination or harassment are ever placed, because it is not left to the officer to deem to which persons are of reasonable suspicion to check. An officer must not only check the ID of guests who look like George Lopez, but those who look like George Clooney as well. If you want to inspect the Jennifer Garners of the world, I want you to inspect the Jennifer Lopezes as well. It is that simple, although actually, I want to inspect the Jennifer Lopezes of the world myself. But you get my point.
It is such an obvious solution, that it is a mystery as to why it has not been put forward as the answer to this problem. Perhaps the primary reason why more haven’t suggested it, is because there is a complete lack of desire in Washington, particularly within the Democrat party, to do anything but about illegal immigration.
But also, based on my own personal observations, especially at airports, a lot of the hesitation to call for universal citizenship verification comes from the same sort of people who may not mind the inspectors sifting through the luggage of the person in front of them, but resent having their own undies manhandled. This is particularly true of some Americans of non Middle Eastern descent, who tediously argue that the TSA should racially profile airline passengers. Since, they argue, statistically terrorists are young Arab men from particular countries, why not only inspect them and leave the rest of “us” alone? (This, despite not only the immorality of racial profiling, and clear evidence that al Qaeda can get Whites, or someone who looks White, or even someone who looks like Betty White, to do their dirty work.)
Perhaps this will also be the case in Arizona. Statistically, it may be deemed too much of a waste of time to check non-Latinos for citizenship - though it should not be too much of a burden for either the law officer or the person stopped. After all, it only requires checking a card, usually a driver’s license, which a cop has to check anyway. Who is not used to having to provide that when stopped by the police?