Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona

I want to take a brief (well, maybe … you know me…) look at a possible ramification of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law. First, a caveat: I have not read the new law. I’ve listened to a lot of discussion on TV and radio (from several sources) and I’ve read numerous articles and blog entries; but so far, I haven’t had the time to read the law. So, if anything that I say here turns out to be off base because I’ve misunderstood what the law actually says, then I apologize in advance. So, with that caveat out of the way…

As I understand it, two of the components of the new Arizona law are as follows:

  1. The police can check immigration status (“Papers, please!”) of anyone whom the police have a “reasonable suspicion” is in this country illegally.
  2. Citizens of Arizona can sue Arizona municipalities and agencies that do no enforce the law.

So, let’s imagine the following scenario: Bob Builder knows (or suspects) that his competitor, Fred Tonka, is using undocumented workers in his construction business. So Bob calls the local sheriff to report this fact (or suspicion). Do the police now have “reasonable suspicion” such that they are obligated to check the immigration status of Fred’s workers? And if the police choose not to act on Bob’s tip, does Bob have the right to sue the police for failing to enforce the law?

Or, let’s take the Rodriguez family and the Gutierrez family (I’m purposely using Hispanic names because I think we all know precisely who this law is aimed at). Raul Gutierrez is dating Sandra Gutierrez, but they get in an argument and break up. To get even with Raul and his family, Sandra calls the police to report that Raul (or even just some members of Raul’s family) are undocumented. Again, must the police investigate? And if the police don’t investigate, can Sandra sue?

Better yet, what if former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, presently challenging Sen. John McCain for the Republican nomination for Senate, were to call the police and tell them that Sen. McCain employed an undocumented immigrant to mow his lawn. Putting aside the fact that Hayworth, as Rachel Maddow so ably demonstrated, is fact-averse, would that call be sufficient to require the police to investigate? And if they didn’t, could Hayworth sue the police?

Finally, if a police officer sees a group of Hispanic men standing at a street corner or a gas station trying to find day labor employment, is that activity in and of itself sufficient to form a “reasonable suspicion” upon which the officer must act in order to avoid liability? What if an officers sees someone purchasing a long distance calling card? What about a person who shows up at the police station to see a family member who has been arrested because they couldn’t prove that they were here legally?

I’m also curious to know what happens to an individual who the police “reasonably suspect” not to be in this country legally, but who is, in fact, a citizen? Say, for example, the police pick up a day laborer who doesn’t have a driver’s license (or simply doesn’t have it with him). What are they supposed to do with that person? Must they arrest him and take him into custody and force his family to come forward with proof that he is a citizen (or legal resident)? And what sort of proof do we expect minors to have to show that they are citizens? Must a Hispanic minor now make sure that he or she has some kind of ID before going out on a Friday night with friends “just in case”?

It also seems that an unintended consequence of the law will be to increase the demand for forged out-of-state documents so that undocumented immigrants can, at least under minimal scrutiny, “prove” that they are lawfully in the country.

I could probably go on at length (I said at the beginning that I’d try to be brief) with the problems with Arizona’s new law. Instead, I’ll simply conclude by noting that a law that encourages racial profiling solely for immigration-related issues, runs so far afoul of what I believe our country stands for and the rights and privileges granted by our Constitution, that every citizen who cares about protecting right from wrong should stand up and loudly condemn this law. The silence of the “anti-big government” teabaggers is truly deafening… We need comprehensive immigration reform; we don’t need knee-jerk, reactionary, racist laws.

And for those I know who like to vacation in Arizona … perhaps the time has come to find another destination rather than giving financial support to a state where people run the risk of being asked for their papers solely because of the color of their skin or the whim of an overzealous police officer.

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