Xenophobia in Arizona

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How SB1070 is Discriminatory


Immigration was brought to the front of the political agenda within days of the Arizona Senate passing Senate Bill 1070, formally titled "Support our Law Enforcement and Neighborhoods Act". There have been demonstrations against it all over the country, and passionate support for it at home in Arizona. Senator John McCain felt compelled to add his voice to the defense of the bill.

Those defending the law argue that all it does is seek to enforce the Federal immigration laws. They dismiss the claims that it is racist or that it will lead to racial profiling, pointing in particular to one section that explicitly prohibits investigations based solely on racial grounds. All of this is disingenuous, but it is getting by in the mainstream media because no one seems able to explain how the law will actually lead to discrimination, not just against those who are not lawfully in the country, but even those who are.

Let us take a look at just a few of the provisions. In Sec. 2, the law stipulates that any law enforcement official of a state, county or municipal agency who is in "any lawful contact" with a person, and has reasonable suspicion that the person is an alien unlawfully in the U.S., shall make reasonable attempts to determine the person's immigration status. Think about this. Whenever a law enforcement official has "contact" with a person - not when they are actually involved in an investigation, as many defenders of the law have tried to argue, but are simply "in contact" - they may take steps to determine the person's immigrations status so long as they can point to some basis for suspicion. The fear, of course, is that brown skin and a Spanish accent will serve that purpose nicely.

Moreover, the law provides that the official shall make such attempts so long as there is some reasonable basis for suspicion. The law also provides for a civil cause of action, which can be commenced by any citizen of the U.S., against any state, county or municipal agency that fails to fully enforce the Federal immigration laws, and a if found liable the agency can be ordered to pay damages of up to $5,000 a day during which such "policy" of obstruction was in effect. So there is a financial incentive to err on the side of aggressive investigation of people's immigration status.

Then there is the provision (Sec. 3 of the law, which amends Title 13 of the Arizona Statutes) that creates a criminal offence of trespassing for any non-American to be found on public property without being in possession of an official alien registration card (technically, in violation of 8 USC 1304(e) and 1306(a)). It is a misdemeanor offence, nonetheless punishable by a stiff fine or a jail term, but if the accused alien (who may very well be in the country legally) is also carrying a weapon, drugs, or products that can be used to make drugs, the offense is a felony. Moreover, the law precludes any judicial or prosecutorial discretion regarding sentencing, and prohibits any commutation or suspension of sentence.

We could continue going through the law for further examples, but it should be patently clear that this law is not only likely to have an adverse impact on minority immigrants who are legally in the country, but that it is animated by malice and vindictiveness towards immigrants generally. It is said that it reflects the frustration of the people of Arizona over the failure of the federal government to move to resolve the issues caused by illegal immigration. That is perhaps so. But the combined effect of these laws will be to ensure that ethnic minorities will be subjected to increased and invasive police scrutiny, legal immigrants will be harassed and even prosecuted for failure to carry an ID, and illegal immigrants will be driven further underground, afraid to have any contact with any public institution regardless of need. The law is inconsistent with the equal protection rights enshrined in the constitution, erodes the due process rights that are fundamental to our democracy, and undermines the rule of law itself.

Oh, and that provision that prohibits investigations based solely on race? It does not relate to any of the provisions discussed above, but only the sections dealing with the employment of immigrants without authority to work in the U.S. So, would I want to go to Arizona these days? Not if I was a brown foreigner, even if I had a valid visa clutched to my breast. - Gamma.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

All very well and good, but the fact is that most illegal immigrants are Latino, so why shouldn't police use ethnicity as a rough guide to asking about visa status?

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