Friday, April 23, 2010

Show Us Your Papers

Arizona’s Governor today signed a law requiring, among other things, that “local police officers question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants.”

Right away this forces the question, “Just what would make a person suspect another person of being an illegal immigrant?” I am not a trained law enforcement officer, but even if I were, I doubt I would have special training in how to recognize an illegal immigrant.

Though apparently, such training does exist. Just ask California Republican Representative Brian Bilbray. He says, “trained professionals" can identify undocumented workers just by looking at their clothes. "They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there is different type of attire, there is different type of -- right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.”

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Representative Bilbray went on to add in his Palinesque syntax, “It's mostly behavior, just as the law enforcement people here in Washington, D.C. does it based on certain criminal activity," he told Matthews. "There is behavior things that professionals are trained in across the board, and this group shouldn't be exempt from those observations as much as anybody else."

On Bill O’Reilly’s Fox program, Senator John McCain added his two cents. He claimed that illegal immigrants will be recognizable to law enforcement officers by their behavior behind the wheel. McCain said, “It's the drive-by that -- the drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway.”

So, to catch the illegals, Arizona State Troopers need to look for people dressed in a “different type” of attire and driving in such a way as to cause accidents on purpose. No racial profiling required. Which is good, because Governor Brewer said she “would not tolerate” racial profiling as her troopers identify possible illegal immigrants and ask them for their papers.

Do you carry your passport around with you all the time in the course of your everyday movements around your hometown? Given Governor Brewer’s ridiculous assertion that this law will be enforced without resort to racial profiling, this is exactly what many of the citizens of Arizona may feel forced to do.

Will middle-aged white skinned women driving 2009 Cadillacs be pulled over and asked for their papers? Will 75-year old Caucasian golfers pulling out of the country club be asked to show proof of citizenship? Or is it the dark skinned, black haired second generation Mexican-American driving an older pick-up truck with one headlight out who will be pulled over and asked for his papers? If all are equally likely to be identified as illegal immigrants, then they should all be worried.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe people wishing to come to America should follow all the proper steps. I also believe that people caught here illegally should be subject to all applicable laws. What I don’t believe is that charging Arizona police with the mission of deciding in a race-blind way just who might be here illegally is at all possible.

Of course it is the dark-skinned Latino who will asked for his papers at a rate 10 times greater than Caucasians will be asked for theirs. And yes, some illegals will be caught and deported. But how many Americans will also be “caught”, forced to prove citizenship, and then sent on their way? We have a Constitution that protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures and surely this law will be challenged and, in a fair world, found unconstitutional.

Why not take President Bush’s advice and reform our immigration laws? President Obama is pushing Congress to address the issue of illegal immigration on the national level and this misguided Arizona law makes the need for real reform even more pressing.

In the meantime, all you people in Arizona better straighten up, dress better, and drive a little more carefully if you don’t want the police asking you for your papers.

1 comment:

  1. The REAL problem here is that anyone who isn't lily-white will hesitate to call on the police to protect and serve if anyone involved might be an illegal immigrant. That's the real way to encourage lawlessness; make people afraid to involve police when they're afraid for their safety. They figured this out in L.A. in the 80's...Arizona is going backwards. Nice.