Arizona's Immigration Law Is Racist (We Can Only Hope)

When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law, I hope that she and the legislators who passed it were motivated purely by absolutely venomous racism.
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When Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law, I hope that she and the legislators who passed it were motivated purely by absolutely venomous racism.

I've read the bill, and there are really only two ways to interpret what it intends to accomplish. Either:

(a) The design is to target brown skinned people who either don't speak English or speak English with an accent, i.e., pure racial profiling,


(b) by the ruse of combating illegal immigration, it gives Arizona police the ability to warrantlessly arrest any resident of Arizona.

The only hope for the people of Arizona is that their police are the world's most vicious racists. Otherwise, I cannot see any way to enforce this law short of stopping every person in Arizona several times a day and inspecting their papers.

You may think I am making this up, but consider the language of Section 1, subsection E.:


Non-citizen immigrants, even legal ones, are subject to deportation for a wide variety of offenses. As a result, a law like this operates as a ready pretext to stop and detain anyone pending verification of residency status.

The danger posed by laws such as Arizona's is not really that it will be used as a bludgeon against Arizona's Hispanic residents, whether citizens, legal immigrants, or illegal aliens. We can all recognize the issue there: aggressive harassment of non-white Arizonians. Some people find this unpleasant, some are enthusiastic about it. Some of the enthusiasts are racists and xenophobes, others honestly believe that illegal immigration is such a problem that the ends justify the means.

What I find more alarming is the concept that in the name of fighting illegal immigration, a law like Arizona's is passed which infringes on the rights of every American. A law that provides law enforcement with a pretext to pull over anyone they find suspicious, and to detain them in the name of verifying their identity.

The Arizona law, for example, provides that law enforcement will verify the detainee's immigration status with federal authorities. However, it does not specify a time frame in which this verification process must take place. The seeming protection of rights actually becomes a mechanism of oppression itself.

Imagine this scenario: You are a 2nd generation German-American living outside Tucson. You moved there recently and don't know your neighbors particularly well. Your father immigrated to the United States about 30 years ago and, after years as a lawful permanent resident, became a citizen a few years ago. Your cousins from Frankfurt are visiting and they've been chatting loudly in your yard. A cruiser pulls up, lights flashing. The cop is friendly but stern. Apparently someone called in to report possible illegals. Your cousins produce their passports. When your father comes out of the house, the cop asks to see his id. In his still accented English, your father explains that his documents are still enroute from Texas, where you previously lived. More police cars arrive. The neighbors are staring. You wonder which one of them called the police. After a hasty huddle, the cops ask your father to come down to the station so they can verify his identity.

What happens next? Maybe your father remembers his social security number. Maybe that's not good enough. (Remember, the Arizona law doesn't specify how you can prove your identity.) Maybe the cops need a passport. Maybe they keep him in a holding cell for two days. Maybe he misses an important meeting. Maybe he gets out right away. Maybe he starts rethinking how great America is.

The natural response of your ordinary citizen to the prospect of an oppressive law is usually something along the lines of: "What do I care? I'm not a terrorist/criminal/illegal alien." But the idea that we are being too mean to poor terrorists/criminals/illegal aliens is almost besides the point. Yes, we should be humane even to people who have done things that make them into bad folk. But the more important aspect is what we do to everyone in the name of catching bad people. Yes, you could probably eliminate drug use in America if you simply searched the homes, cars, and person of every man, woman, and child in America on a daily basis. You'd probably want to do body cavity searches, just to be sure, though. Junkies are tricky. But at what cost?

Let's say you're 100% unsympathetic to illegal immigrants. Fair enough. The problem with a bill like this is that either it targets people on the basis of race--in which case you're going to harass some American citizens and some illegals, though the ratio will likely be skewed in favor of the illegals, OR it is racially neutral, in which case it places a huge burden on every resident of Arizona to establish their citizenship. If you apply a law like this fairly, you would really have to stop people on the street en masse and ask for their ID. So it amounts to a huge invasion of privacy of EVERY citizen.

This is why many conservatives with libertarian leanings have lined up against this law. And that is why I say I hope it is racist, because it is truly the lesser of the two evils. I wish that our conservative friends could see that a law like this that putatively targets people we don't like actually comes to affect ALL of us due to the difficulty of establishing that we are not the people we don't like.

As a Danish statistician analogized in an Esquire article I read recently, we could completely eliminate the possibility of traffic accidents--which claim 50, 000 lives a year simply by reducing the speed limit to say 20 miles an hour. But as hard as it is to say that saving 50, 000 lives is not worth crippling economic life and the freedom of mobility in America is---it's not.

Let's be realistic about what this law is: it's a dumb, emotional product of cultural politics designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of fear. It cannot possibly be effective in its stated goal. If applied in the racist fashion I believe it is intended, it will accomplish the goal of making the lives of select non-white Arizonians miserable. If applied in any way approaching equal application of the law, it will harass a wide variety of Arizonians, regardless of race.

A few more illegal immigrants may get deported as the result of Arizona's law, but they will be quickly replaced by other illegals, or, perhaps just sneak into the country again. The jobs are an irresistible magnet, the rest is just details. Dumb laws like this don't do anything except reward pandering politicians with the votes of xenophobic morons.

The dumb political circus will wind on very slowly. The law will get struck down, probably within months by a federal judge who points to its obvious equal protection and habeas corpus issues. A long, tedious appeals process will result, allowing Arizona's idiot legislators to rail against elitist judges with their fancy laws.

Our only hope for Arizona's strange racist law is that it will finally spur comprehensive immigration reform. It can't come soon enough.

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