Recently Signed Arizona Immigration Law Fundamentally Unfair
By The Executive Board
In Nazi Germany, Jews lived in constant fear of arrest, were required to carry identification papers and could be stopped for inspection by the police at all times. In apartheid South Africa, black South Africans had to carry identity documents so that white authorities could keep track of their oppressed countrymen. In antebellum America, free blacks were required to carry court papers to prove their free status.

And as of last week, in Arizona, failure to carry immigration documents is a crime. Accompanying this invasive legislation is a mandate for Arizona police to question anyone “reasonably” suspected of being in the country illegally and to detain them if they are not carrying proper papers, regardless of immigration status. Not only does this new law evoke memories of xenophobic oppression, but it also flies in the face of the fundamental American values of equality and freedom by promoting racial profiling, discrimination and a police state.

The Student rarely comments on political events, for there is usually enough on campus to opine about, but in special cases, broader issues necessitate a response. The decision by Arizona governor Jan Brewer to sign one of the nation’s most draconian laws, is detrimental not only in its practicality, but also in its blatant disregard for the constitutional freedoms many Republicans purport to protect. The ironic part about the bill is that where it is most offensive is not in how it affects illegal immigrants, but in how it will inevitably lead to harassment of lawful immigrants and citizens of “suspicious” ethnicities or vocations.

The United States is and has always been a country of immigrants. More than half of our executive board are either immigrants or children of immigrants. Though proponents of the law say that it is not hostile towards foreigners and permanent residents, they do not take into account how legal immigrants feel about illegal immigration. Though the anger directed towards those who illegally cross our border is not meant to spill out towards Hispanics or Arab-Americans, the immigration debate has been framed as a us-against-them battle. Hispanics, understandably, have felt threatened by the eagerness of border warriors to crack down on their countrymen, not only because they feel the punishments are harsh, but also because they are adversely affected by draconian immigration laws. This law will only heighten fears of a xenophobic police state and radicalize certain illegal immigration rights groups, who would otherwise have little to stand on.

The Arizona legislation is most ridiculous and concerning in two significant ways. First, it doesn’t just allow for police to approach Arizonans for their papers, but requires that they do so if there is “reasonable suspicion.” Citizens can sue their local police departments for not enforcing the law sufficiently. This will put immense pressure on police to over-enforce the policy and will make them more likely to profile, resulting in a larger communication gap between minorities and police. Second, reasonable suspicion is so broad that racial profiling is unavoidable, and harassment will be the norm. What is reasonable suspicion? It is not crime, because immigration status is determined already in criminal cases, and according to the new law, ethnicity cannot be the primary factor for detaining someone. Do the police approach gardeners? If you give a cop the wrong look, does he have the right to bring you to the station if he doesn’t believe you’re a citizen? There is simply no way reasonable suspicion is a fair way for the police to identify who to question.

The last point we’d like to make is that requiring immigrants to always carry papers is fundamentally un-American. Who goes to the supermarket with their birth certificate? Many Arizonans now have to. The fact that part of the population will have a target on their backs is a violation of equal protection, and it creates a divide between the already divided border state communities. Illegal immigration is a problem there, but this law will not solve it. All it does is encourage people to leave Arizona and embolden the immigration reform movement. More importantly, it paints an intolerant image of America that the nation has rejected for decades. Similar laws have often popped up during tough economic times, and sometimes, such as during the Red Scare, they have tarnished America’s welcoming image. Let us not make the same mistake again. We are not a nation of card-carriers, and hopefully, we never will be.

Issue 24, Submitted 2010-04-28 02:28:55