The New Arizona Immigration Law, Fair Treatment & Justice
Arizona Senate Bill 1070: Immigration Reform on Speed!
This past week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (GOP) signed the new intensely controversial immigration bill that grants police officers in her state the power to determine whether or not a person is in the United Sates illegally into law.
In what some saw as clear a acknowledgment of deeply felt worries that this legislation would foster racial profiling of the targeted sections of the population, Gov. Brewer disavowed the suspicions and issued an executive order requiring additional training for local officers on proper ways to implement the law without resulting in discriminatory practices.
But even this gesture was insufficient to assuage frayed nerves among a wide spectrum of critics who interestingly do not include any Tea Party Movement Leaders---the new self-acclaimed arbiters of freedom and defenders of our civil liberties!
President Obama weighed in, calling the bill “misguided” and qualified it as “threatening to undermine the basic notions of fairness.” He subsequently implored expeditious action on reform from Congress since, according to him, “the failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” as exemplified by the Arizona statue.
A number of government officials and national activist organizations, from the Phoenix Mayor, Phil Gordon, to Al Sharpton, the National Action Network, the Hispanic Federation and the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders have expressed interest in challenging the new law through the judicial process.
Several governmental, civic and international organizations (the Organization of American States) have condemned the Arizona law as discriminatory or unconstitutional. The government of Mexico followed suit this week with a travel advisory forewarning her citizens travelling to the United States about the possibility that they could be stopped capriciously.
A whole host of other individuals and groups are increasingly calling for total a boycott of the state of Arizona; a repeat of the boycott of the early '90s in protest of the state’s decision to opt out of the observance of the Martin Luther King’ s birthday as a public holiday.
Nonetheless, supporters of the bill, including Hispanic lawmakers and law enforcement officials, remain strong in their conviction that the law is the best effort yet to arrest the state’s deteriorating immigration situation---the trifecta of the growing spate of violent crimes, a broken revolving door justice system and an overburdened social service delivery system.
The bill’s leading sponsor, Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, adamantly defended it, opining that "illegal is not a race; it's a crime." He exasperatingly added "we're going to take the handcuffs off of law enforcement. We're going to put them on the bad guy,"
To put the current melee in historical context, previously, Arizona officers could only check on someone’s immigration status if that person was a suspect in another crime. But since the new law, immigrants must carry their alien registration documents at all times and police can now question people if there is reason to suspect that they are in America illegally.
This is the portion of the legislation that opponents find most objectionable, immoral and frightening.
Many Americans characterize the immigration situation in the country as desperate, even disquieting. However, instituting actions that fundamentally cause parallels to be drawn between a society that prides itself with being the paragon of advanced democratic principles and apartheid South Africa (as with the discredited “Pass” laws of old) or Germany under the Third Reich ought to be unsettling.
Allowing the fate of an underrepresented section of the population to hang on the balance of a term as nebulous and arbitrary as “reasonable suspicion” to be prejudicially determined by peace officers in extraordinarily overwrought circumstances should be of concern to all.
What about the background or temperament of the police officers that the Arizona law mandates with rendering these judgments truly prepares them for the challenge? How are they to overlook existing personal and institutional biases? In the absence of any immediate oversight authority, what recourse for redemption do ordinary Arizonans who have been victimized by any excesses from these officers have?
What other unintended consequences might this have on crime prevention and community policing initiatives? Wouldn’t the law discourage members of the targeted sections of the population from offering up crucial leads or eye-witness testimonies that law enforcement systems normally rely on to solve serious crimes?
Offensive as the Arizona example may seem, there is no denying that this is indeed a national phenomenon. Across this country, literally thousands of statutory reform initiatives focusing on the immigration problem are introduced each year.
Granted that it is the immutable responsibility of every nation to guard its territorial space and institute whatever measures or processes it deems appropriate to moderate human traffic through its borders, it is difficult to ignore the bastardized, racial face of immigration reform in this country today.
Immigration reform in mainstream media parlance conjures up images of shiftless people of color sauntering in to ruin pristine American communities; Mexicans, East Asians, Africans, and the like. Rarely are any references made to why, in the first place, these people leave there often distant homesteads for the US; or once here, the purpose that they serve in society; not to mention the vile, exploitative conditions under which they toil daily.
Just as is generally the case with the terms terrorist and terrorism, immigration reform in the popular nomenclature has assumed a separatist, exclusive constitution. It’s now been conveniently boiled-down to one of many pejorative references or categorizations that have become the preserve of non-white peoples.
Until a genuine effort is made to reject the present characterization of immigration reform or re-cast it in a more balanced, objective image, it will for many continue to represent an instrument of oppression.