Posted by on April 05, 2012 in Blog

By Danielle Malaty

This week, the Center for American Progress held a panel and discussion entitled “Why Courts Matter: Racial Profiling and the Arizona Immigration Law.” The panel highlighted the role that the federal courts play in immigration policy, contextualized the Supreme Court’s upcoming hearing, and discussed the ramifications of the Court’s decision. The program is part of a series run by Legal Progress to highlight the important role that the judiciary plays in the lives of Americans, as well as in the success of the progressive legislative agenda. Moderated by Mike Sacks, the Supreme Court Correspondent for The Huffington Post, the panel included State Representative and House Minority Leader in the Georgia General Assembly Stacey Abrams (D-GA), Robina Foundation Distinguished Senior Research Scholar in Law and Lecturer in Law Lucas Guttentag, and retired federal judge from the Northern District of Alabama Judge U.W. Clemon.

The conversation revolved around the Supreme Court’s upcoming hearing of oral arguments in the landmark case State of Arizona v. United States, which challenges the authority of a state to enact its own immigration enforcement laws instead of following federal regulations. This case has received widespread attention across the nation as it will potentially make groundbreaking changes in the extent to which an individual state can engage in immigration legislation and enforcement. In years past, states have always been barred or preempted by the Constitutional determinations of the US Supreme Court to enforce or make immigration law as the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction.

Arizona’s SB 1070, which bears a resemblance to bills presented to lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah, presents four key provisions that will be subject to the Court’s Scrutiny:

  • Section 2(B): This section directs law enforcement to question individuals whom they have “reasonable articulable suspicion” that they are of unauthorized status. This portion of the legislation states: “For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of that person.”
  • Section 3: This section criminalizes an immigrant’s failure to carry their alien registration document.
  • Section 5(C): This section makes it illegal in Arizona for an undocumented immigrant to work or apply for work. (In contrast, federal law regarding undocumented immigrants and employment makes it illegal to hire illegal immigrants, but doesn’t impose penalties on individual illegal immigrants for working if they are able to find work. 
  • Section 6: This section states that “[a] peace officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe . . . [t]he person to be arrested has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States”.

In summation, this piece of legislation essentially attempt to codify the “attrition through enforcement” policy, which aims to make life so harsh for undocumented immigrants and their families that they would “self-deport” to their native countries. Arizona legislators have made living conditions particularly inhospitable for people of color, regardless of their citizenship.

Our nation was founded on the uncontroverted dedication to preserving, upholding, defending and cherishing the belief that all persons are created equal. Yet with all social progress, the American population must also commit themselves to patience with the legislative process. Arizona’s “show me your papers” laws turns the clocks back and flips the promise of fair treatment of all people squarely on its head. These disproportionate measures empower states to incarcerate anyone unless they can prove that they have sufficient documentation to prove legal status. Consequently, anyone of color or anyone who speaks with a foreign accent can be asked to present papers. These state laws effectually mandate law enforcement agents to actively participate in racial and ethnic profiling.

Panelist Stacey Abrams shared a story of a young undocumented mother of three citizen children who made the heartbreaking decision to not call 911 when her husband needed urgent medical attention, a decision which ultimately led to his death. His passing was all due to the fact that calling 911 would have put her on the radar, so to speak, for deportation. I asked Ms. Abrams, a well-respected and experienced woman in the political arena, what proponents of this law assert when presented with tragic stories such as the 911 call story. Her response was quite disturbing. The idea of self-deportation is not only a method which right wing conservatives believe will repair the “damaging presence” of undocumented persons; it will heighten the likelihood that a conservative would win an election by the absence of a strong minority community supporting the opponent.

According to this discriminatory legislation, police are required to stop any person whom they “reasonably suspect” of being an illegal immigrant. However, the reality of this requirement is the permission to stop any person with brown skin, dark hair, or other allegedly suspicious physical features. Lawmakers in Arizona have succumbed to the forces of intolerance, hatred, and xenophobia by passing this law, a law that is quite simply un-American.

Though this legislation directly affects the Latino community in Arizona, it will certainly have a dramatic ripple effect on the Arab American and American Muslim community as well. Laws like SB 1070 will most certainly destroy the relationship between law enforcement and Arab American and American Muslim communities by making immigrants without documentation far more reluctant to cooperate at the scene of a crime, provide crucial testimony during criminal investigations, and even more reluctant to cooperate and provide critical assistance to the Department of Justice, FBI, and Homeland Security in combatting terrorism.

Naturally, the large Arab American and American Muslim communities in Arizona find this law to be xenophobic, if not downright appalling. No matter what benefit to the state of Arizona proponents of this bill claim to bring, its harm will surely outweigh its good. It is simply a desperate attempt to legitimize racial profiling in order to hide the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and a frightening reminder of attempts to legitimize racial profiling at airports.

Right-wing Conservatives and the anti-Islam camp in particular have pushed hard to rationalize racial profiling at airports, calling for all Arabs or Muslims to receive a heightened level of surveillance. Excusing racial profiling in one environment only facilitates the rationality of it in another. Who’s to say that this behavior won’t continue to pervade the way law enforcement agents conduct themselves? Will police officers be granted the right to randomly pull over black Americans driving through white neighborhoods? Where do we draw the line? If discrimination against Arabs, Muslims, Latinos, and others is tolerated, then we only open the door to discrimination against another.

 

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