Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ethnic Profiling vs Comprehensive Reform

Opponents of Arizona's new immigration law (SB1070) say it could lead to racial or ethnic profiling. Supporters say that is nonsense since the law specifically prohibits this.

The law requires that police check the immigration status of people they believe may be in this country illegally, but only during a lawful stop, detention or arrest. Supporters insist that since police can only check immigration status once a person is being questioned for some other offense, there can be no racial or ethnic profiling.

Forty years ago a friend and I were driving across Kansas (or maybe it was Colorado) on our way to the Rockies in my friend's brand new Camaro. In the middle of nowhere about 11PM at night we were pulled over. The officer said our head lights were not properly aimed. The officer asked for my friend's driver's license and the car registration, which we had trouble finding. We were both college students and my friend's mom had just bought the car for him. It was clear we were not going anywhere without showing the registration, which we eventually found buried in the glove compartment.

We were sent on our way after promising to have the head lights checked. Many miles down the road we found a gas station and borrowed some screw drivers to aim the head lights. I'd done this before. We pulled the car up to a wall at the gas station to adjust them. The car was brand new. There was nothing wrong with the lights.

Naive me. It was sometime later that it dawned on me that we were pulled over for some other reason. There was nothing wrong with our headlights. I have no idea why we were pulled over. It wasn't racial profiling, we were both white kids and it was at night. The point is that when the police want to pull you over, they can. This is not a knock against the police. But, when someone tells you that this law can't lead to racial or ethnic profiling because the police must have some other reason for questioning you, you can bet you are not talking to a minority.

I do not object to checking immigration status out of sympathy for illegal immigrants. I object for the people who are here legally, especially citizens, that will be harassed and inconvenienced if this law is implemented the way it seems to be written.

My understanding is that the law allows citizens to challenge police if the citizen believes the police are not checking immigration status when they should. This is a just a way pressure police to make this a priority. It is clear that Arizona legislators are afraid police may not work hard enough to enforce this law. This pressure to identify illegal immigrants may also lead to to profiling.

I would wager that more people are killed by speeding drivers in Arizona than by illegal immigrants. Why not empower citizens to challenge police whenever they seem to ignore someone driving over the speed limit? The answer is that Arizona wants to harass illegal immigrants and they don't really care if legal immigrants or citizens are caught in the middle.

If Arizona is serious about finding illegal immigrants, they should call for a national ID and require everyone to carry their ID at all times. Or better yet, why doesn't the entire Arizona Congressional delegation stand up and call for comprehensive immigration reform?

The answer from Republicans is that the border must be sealed first. We've been talking about sealing the border for years. During both Republican and Democratic administrations. It is not easy to seal the border. It isn't going to happen any time soon, if ever. If there are enough incentives for people to be in this country illegally, they will find a way to get here.

Part of the purpose of comprehensive immigration reform is to decrease the incentives for coming here illegally. We have been trying to seal the borders for years with limited success. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have put money and people into border security. Why not continue to work on the borders at the same time we work to reduce the incentives? Why not work on comprehensive immigration reform now?

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