Immigrant or Criminal?
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.