April 26, 2010

Racial Profiling Made Easy

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Rationality is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? It gives us responses like cognitive dissonance — a state of mental unease brought about by trying to simultaneously accept two contradictory ideas as true. But cognitive dissonance must not be in the vernacular of Arizona Republicans, who clearly aren’t bothered by the broad Orwellian authority recently vested in state and local officials to crack down on illegal immigration.

Last Friday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB1070, a piece of legislation designed to bolster state authority to combat illegal immigration. The means by which the law aims to accomplish this, however, are deservedly controversial.

Let’s start with the basics: The law makes illegal immigration a crime in the State of Arizona (currently, illegal immigration is only a federal crime; Arizona is the first state to enact such a measure). As such, the law also mandates that police ascertain citizenship status “if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S,” during any contact between officer and citizen. Seeing as how those “Hey! Look over here! I’m an illegal immigrant!” shirts haven’t been selling too well, it’s easy to suspect that “reasonable suspicion,” in the eyes of Johnny Law, equates to “reasonably Mexican-looking.”

The bill also implicitly requires immigrants to carry documentation papers with them at all times, as “a law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.” (emphasis mine) Since illegally entering the country is grounds for deportation, this plank of the bill essentially allows officers to arrest, without a warrant, anyone even suspected of being an illegal immigrant.

So there you have it: racial profiling, unwarranted arrests and mandatory identification, brought to you by the good folks who told you the government’s out to kill your granny.

“But wait!” you say. “These people are in the country illegally! They’re criminals! We have every right to do anything in our power to apprehend them.”

True, illegal immigration is a crime — and not a victimless one, either. But let’s think through what the effects of this law really are before jumping to conclusions.

First off, every Hispanic, Hispanic-looking or Hispanic-sounding person in the State of Arizona has just become a suspect. Governor Brewer insisted that police officers would be trained to avoid racial profiling, but let’s not fool ourselves — there’s a reason Mexican civil rights organizations are up in arms about the law while Ukrainian groups are curiously silent. It’s far more likely that Governor Brewer’s “training” will be much more akin to a crash course in how to rationalize racial profiling by deliberately looking for other evidence to confirm previously harbored suspicions.

This law also has the consequence of discouraging anyone who may feel at risk of being construed as an illegal immigrant from seeking help from the police. There’s a reason I italicized “any contact” a few paragraphs above. How likely would you be to call the police for help if you knew that you’d be arrested for not having your papers in order?

Lastly, let’s think of the scope of the underlying issue here. Arizona has roughly half a million illegal immigrants. Estimates place the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States somewhere between 12 and 15 million. Increase law enforcement all you want –– a vast majority of those illegal immigrants are here to stay. SB1070 does nothing to address the systemic problems that foster illegal immigration, yet it’s being marketed as some sort of panacea that will cure Arizona of all its illegal immigration woes. In fact, there’s little reason to believe that much benefit will come to Arizona at all; the only immediate consequence seems to be the further institutional marginalization of five hundred thousand illegal immigrants in addition to the nearly two million Hispanics that legitimately reside there.

The adoption of this legislation was not borne out of a genuine attempt to help the State of Arizona; rather, it was signed into law to appease contemptuous voters who felt not enough was being done to fight illegal immigration. And there you have it, mission accomplished, only at the cost of having codified civil rights violations and tacitly condoned racism by state officials.

Then again, maybe it will discourage immigration into Arizona. Hell, if I lived in Arizona right now, I might be ready to leave myself.

Original Author: David Murdter