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Posted by on Apr 29, 2010 in Opinion, Social Issues, TG Roundup, USA

Immigrant or Criminal?

Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer

Sometimes, the news makes me cringe.  I don’t know how many of you have read about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070.  This legislation was recently passed, making it legal for the police to stop people and demand a verification of immigration status.  The motivation behind this bill is to find immigrants who are in this country illegally, thus attempting to solve the problem of having so many illegal immigrants.

The reaction to the legislation has been very strong.  There are people who are violently for it and people who are violently against it.  I saw such a wide range of opinions on this issue that I decided to sit down and actually take a look at the bill.  I understand the intent of the bill, which is to ensure that federal immigration laws are actually enforced, but I think that the Arizona legislature is going about things poorly.

There are some interesting arguments in support of the bill.  People insist that the bill is not unconstitutional and that it is just meant to enforce the laws that are already in place.  They say that illegal immigrants should not be in this country, so it is not a big issue that the authorities are trying to find them.  Illegal immigrants do not have to pay taxes or support the system in the same ways that legal residents do, yet they reap the benefits of the system.  The validity of these points can be debated, but that is not the question at hand here.  I think the majority of Americans would agree that illegal immigration is a problem and that it needs to be fixed.  However, the end does not justify the means.  The solution to the problem should be constitutional.

People may ask, “how hard is it to carry your green card?”  Well, let’s think about it.  How many of us carry around proof of our immigration status on a daily basis?  I know that I don’t carry my passport anywhere with me.  If I was asked to verify my immigration status on my way to school, I doubt I could do it, even if I am an American citizen.

Opponents of the bill argue that it is legalizing racial profiling.  The legislation is written in a way that makes it possible for law enforcement officers to demand an immigration check of whomever they want.  The bill states that “a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person” when “reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”  I’d like to direct your attention to the phrase “reasonable suspicion.”  A reasonable suspicion can be just about anything.  It can be interpreted to mean that racial profiling is acceptable or not.  Ideological arguments aside, I think it’s poor legislation to write a directive so vague.

The legislation also says that officials are allowed to send, receive, and maintain whatever information they like in order to verify a person’s immigration status.  I find it interesting that so many conservatives who spoke out against things like health care reform because it meant “big government” are in support of this legislation.  Per this legislation, the government is allowed to maintain whatever information it desires.  How is that not big government?

Lastly, I find a serious problem with the following article of the legislation: “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.”  This clause is on shaky ground with the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  According to the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers can seize a person if there is a reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime.  Being an illegal immigrant can technically be considered a crime, but how does one determine the probability that someone is an illegal immigrant?  Here, the racial profiling argument comes back into play.  I doubt that Arizona police are going to stop Caucasians to see if they are illegal Polish immigrants.  They will be stopping people who look like illegal Mexican immigrants.  It is true that the majority of illegal immigrants in Arizona are likely to be from Mexico, but that does not make it constitutional to say that anyone with dark skin or anyone who “looks Mexican” can reasonably be thought to be an illegal immigrant.  People who argue that this is not racial profiling do not really have an argument.

This legislation is currently a very inflammatory topic.  News outlets and Internet media make all sorts of claims as to what this bill says and what it means.  I encourage everyone to read the actual document and form an opinion that is minimally influenced by media distortions.  After reading the bill, my opinion is that it is ridiculous.  The language is so vague that anyone in Arizona can be criminalized by it, and unfortunately it is a group of people with certain external characteristics that will suffer from it.  Those who say that opponents of the bill support illegal immigration are making a ridiculous claim.  The majority of Americans would like to see a resolution to the problems with the immigration system.  However, this is certainly not the way to do it.  This bill is unconstitutional, in spirit if not in letter, and I sincerely hope that it will be redacted before it goes into effect.  I agree with our president that the bill “undermines basic notions of fairness,” and I think that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made a grievous mistaking in signing it into law.

For those of us who do not live in Arizona, why should we care?  If standing up for the principles of justice is not enough, think about this.  Not only is the bill unjust, it has created a heated debate in our society about immigration reform, and with all of this uproar, I doubt that our country will be able to take any meaningful steps towards real reform in the near future.  As the daughter of immigrants, I think that straightening out the immigration system is an urgent necessity to ensure that those who came to this country and worked hard to succeed do not suffer the consequences of a broken system.  Immigration reform is one of the hottest issues in politics and it is certainly one that needs to be resolved sooner than later.  This bill makes moving toward resolution less likely, thus ensuring that the problems associated with illegal immigration will continue to affect our society.

11 Comments

  1. Kris,

    The legal ambiguity in this measure is the measure’s biggest problem. How can you create a standard for “reasonable suspicion” among police officers? The answer is that you cannot. “Reasonable suspicion” is a legal loophole that will allow some extremist officers in counties across Arizona to arrest people without a warrant, which is a direct violation of the United States Constitution. This will be done, in most cases, solely based on the color of a person’s skin. It will create a system of legal harassment for people of a particular skin color even if those people are second or third generation American Citizens.

    Racial profiling is simply never alright. Once it is embedded into law, it will be taken to an extreme and will become so widespread that the goal of the racial profiling will be just to promote an agenda of hate. Nazi Germany and Japanese Internment camps in the United States are the hallmark recent examples of how racial profiling has led to major conflict in human history. In the U.S. Census, no racial profiling is done. Race-related is collected to demonstrate the level to which ethnic diversity is present within a certain community. In terms of the Green Card, race is considered only in order to enhance the fairness of the availability of the status to all races in a proportionally equal manner.

    Racial profiling was what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought against for his entire life. Racial profiling is never done with good intentions, as he said, and is used as a tactic to promote hate and concentration of power. We cannot simply stand idly by and watch while members of our nation are exposed to the second class citizenship that is, in reality, bestowed upon them by this dangerous and discriminatory law.

    • I do not want to argue about what you said since it is not worth arguing because most of your views are based on assumptions or things that MAY or MAY NOT happen.

      A police officer cannot stop anyone at random (what you call so called racial profiling). If he/she develops reasonable suspicion AFTER stopping the subject for some other offense like speeding, traffic violation etc… then only he/she is entitled to call the federal dept’s hotline (which FYI has been there since 15 years).

      It’s a shame that it is interpreted inaccurately.

      • Well, have you actually read the bill? I definitely have, and I can quote line numbers for you to back up what I said earlier. You, on the other hand, seem to have not read or comprehended the bill’s text. Please try reading it sometime.

        • By the way, I never said that a police officer had the power to stop a person at random. They will instead begin stopping people they suspect under pretenses of a “defective headlight” or something like that. They will definitely never stop a Caucasian under such pretenses. Also, the police has neither the expertise or the capacity to fairly implement this law. These are not my words. Rather, they are the words of the Yuma County Sheriff.

          • *the police have

  2. “I think that straightening out the immigration system is an urgent necessity to ensure that those who came to this country and worked hard to succeed do not suffer the consequences of a broken system.”

    Can you justify why you think that the immigration system is broken in this current context – context of arizona’s law?

    I have no preference one way or the other. One always strives for better quality of life. I am not supporting those illegal immigrants who are in US and committing crime but those hard-working illegal immigrants who are sacrificing their lives working 2 or 3 jobs.

    One always strives for better quality of life. I believe in human compassion and in those grounds everyone is equal for me – Illegal immigrants (who crossed the border) or legal immigrants who worked hard to succeed. I believe that illegal immigrants are not taking our (legal immigrant) opportunities.

    Can you give an example where a legal immigrant is suffering due to an illegal immigrant? Let’s leave those illegal immigrants who are committing crimes. Crime and legal status should never be combined.

    • Kris, I think the point here is… This law is made to catch and there by suppress the number of illegal immigrants. But the “guidelines” provided in the law can be used very well against legal immigrants who might fit those “guidelines”.

      Are you willing to carry your papers all the time so that you can prove your legal status ? There’s very well a chance that you could lose them somewhere and you can only imagine the subsequent troubles. Probably, that is what Suguna is alluding to when she was referring to inconvenience to legal immigrants. In addition, if in future the immigration laws are built basing on this law then there will be more of those inconveniences to legal immigrants.

      I think it is one of those lines dividing freedom and law enforcement. The “thickness” of this line seems to be varying for different people. 🙂 You have to choose between a potential ‘1984’ (George Orwell’s book) situation and one where your freedom doesn’t have to be sacrificed. I hope a different kind of a solution can be found.

  3. Suguna – I have to disagree with what you said about “reasonable suspicion” Legal directives are always vague and that’s the reason why we have defense and offense lawyers. It is practically impossible to have an exhaustive list of probable causes in a legal context. Dont you think so?

    • I do not want to whine but what is wrong with racial profiling if they are doing it with right intentions? Consider Census for that matter……how many of us are against the fact that Dept. of Commerce is collecting racial information in latest Census? Is not there racial profiling in Green Card process? 🙂

      Of course, I agree that it is quite cumbersome to carry identification documents at all times but if they introduce some kind of ID system that will alleviate at least some of the problems.

      I was thought to appreciate everything in life and not take anything for granted. 🙂

      We seem to be focusing so much on the inconveniences that we are ignoring the sacrifices those illegal immigrants are making and the value they are adding to the society. Yes, they are indeed adding value to the society.

  4. Good one, Suguna. This legislation for sure unconstitutional and inhumane. There are already some agitations started in other states demanding to take this legislation back especially in Illinois, President’s home state. Hope for the best out of this.

    For the interest of the people, could you please mention the wesite where we can read the legislation?