Beyond Reasonable Suspicion

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... pics borrowed from AP
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“You’ve been randomly selected for a search.” These are the words I heard as I was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon my return from a recent trip to Canada. The hourlong experience was harrowing—I was asked questions about where I was born, whether English was my first language, whether I had credit cards or cash, what I do for a living, why I was traveling, where I had gone, how my traveling companion and I knew each other, and what I was carrying in my pockets, purse and luggage. I was forbidden to stand, place my hands in my pockets, make phone calls and use the restroom without asking for permission. All of this I took in stride because I figured that it was being done in the interest of national security. Certainly, an hour of my time is well spent in helping to ensure the safety of my fellow citizens.

Though this was not how I envisioned I’d be spending a Sunday evening, it became a golden opportunity for me to think about and observe what would become a fiery issue exactly one month later when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law. As written, “the provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the U.S.”

This law has raised many questions. Some seem straightforward, like who is considered an “alien” and how “unlawful presence” is determined. Some questions are more complex, like what counts as “reasonable suspicion,” a “practicable” situation and “reasonable attempts … to determine immigration status.”

I decided to find some answers by interviewing two recent documented immigrants to Los Angeles, Susan, a 34-year-old from the United Kingdom, and Maria, a 33-year-old from Mexico. The conversation was fascinating. We talked about Arizona’s historical trouble with diversity as shown by the way it dealt with the MLK holiday, Public Enemy’s now classic “By the Time I Get to Arizona” performed to make the public aware of Arizona’s troubles with diversity and the new song they’ve performed in protest against SB 1070 called “Tear Down That Wall”, and the state’s recent abolition of ethnic studies courses from state curricula. We moved on to criticisms they’d heard from the sports and entertainment industries, including how “Family Guy’s” Seth McFarlane is reported to have called the law a “slap in the face,” comparing the legislation to the Nazis’ tradition of requiring people to present their “papers” on demand. We discussed economic implications related to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s opposition to “this law as written” and how it “will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of … [its] members.” We questioned whether the protest performed on Cinco de Mayo by the Phoenix Suns pro basketball team, wearing “Los Suns” on their jerseys to show solidarity with Latino communities, was effective. Then there was a heated debate about the violent and viral “Machete Trailer,” filled with A-list actors who oppose the law and its proponents (the clip currently has over 1 million YouTube hits).

More political issues soon arose. While both Susan and Maria agreed that illegal immigration is a growing and important problem for the U.S. economy and security, and both support aspects of the bill that pertain to employers’ responsibility and fines, both are deeply troubled by the ethnic and racial profiling permitted by the law’s ambiguous wording. Susan described herself as a “neutral-looking person that no one’s interested in” because of her physical appearance and British accent. She doesn’t believe she would create “reasonable suspicion” but she fears for the images of all immigrants that the law creates in the minds of law enforcement officers. Maria, who called the law “an exercise in mega-discrimination,” also described herself as “neutral-looking” but definitely felt targeted by the law because of her accent and family name. “If I were in Arizona I just wouldn’t feel safe, even if I were carrying all the appropriate documents,” she said. Then there’s the issue of paperwork backlogs. Both Maria and Susan wondered what might happen when a person who raised “reasonable suspicion” is here legally but government agencies have not fully processed her or his visa paperwork.

Arizona’s SB 1070 also reminded Maria of a law that eventually was declared unconstitutional, California’s 1994 Proposition 187, also known as the “Save Our State” initiative, designed to prohibit undocumented immigrants’ access to social services, health care and public education. Maria’s fear is that Arizona’s law will force undocumented immigrants further underground and create a deeper subculture that brings with it just what the law is supposed to eliminate -- more conflict and confusion. “Families, governments and communities will be further divided by this kind of law, not just geographically but politically and economically,” she said.

Surprisingly, Susan and Maria disagreed on the power of the proposed boycott of Arizona businesses. Susan was in favor of it; Maria was not. Maria was very concerned that further economic recession in the state would only serve to enhance the racial, ethnic and nationalist conflicts among citizens, documented immigrants and undocumented immigrants.

For an expert word on the matter I turned to Dr. Ulli Ryder, a professor at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. According to Ryder, “the law is unconscionable and could very well prove to be unconstitutional. It is based on the assumptions of illegality and racial and ethnic profiling.” Ryder also pointed to the nation’s history of requiring people of certain racial and ethnic groups to carry papers that proved they were allowed to move about. “For instance, the enslaved were required to carry passes that showed they had permission to travel when questioned by whites at any time. This is where we get the term passing.” Enslaved persons who looked like they were white were able to “pass” through checkpoints without producing any papers at all. This tradition continued well into the segregation era and “helped to create many divisions among multiracial and African-Americans.” Like Maria, Dr. Ryder is afraid that Latino communities will suffer the same fate in the wake of this law.

So, where do we go from here? Do we grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants as we did in 1986 with the Immigration Reform and Control Act? After much conversation I’m not sure that anyone really knows. One thing’s for sure: Arizona has taken a drastic step in attempting to find the answer. Perhaps now that Arizona has taken this step, it can also take Bishop Desmond Tutu’s advice and use the “opportunity to create a new model for dealing with the pitfalls, and help the nation as a whole find its way through the problems of illegal immigration.” A step in this direction might just remind all 50 states of the call sent out to the world: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


Driven by Prison Economics

A former student just sent me this NPR article, explaining that prison business models helped shape this bill. Frightening!!!

Excellent "Atlantic" article on immigration

Please check out this informative piece by Sara Mayeux.

Oppressive Governments

What the press and many often avoid mentioning, is that illegal aliens come here because of their governments. Central & South American is overwhelmed with totalitarian tyrannies. If they we're like the Commonwealth, everyone would be happy, prosperous and have no reason to leave their homelands.

CA voters split on AZ bill

"Overall, 50% of registered CA voters surveyed said they support the law, which compels police to check the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally, while 43% oppose it. That level of support is lower than polls have indicated nationwide...",...

Beyond reasonable suspicion.

It is interesting to read how Susan and Maria viewed what is happening in Arizona. Marcia, I sent you an interesting CNN clip via your email.

AZ man arrested and incarcerated

Below is a recent story of the arrest of an Arizona truck driver who, despite providing authorities with both a commercial driver’s license and a Social Security card, was incarcerated until his wife was able to provide his birth certificate.

a problem that needs better fixing

Illegal immigration could certainly be seen as a problem in the US, but the way that the country (and now individual states) have gone about attempting to "resolve the problem" has been incredibly poor, and in this case, downright criminal. You would think that with a country advanced in so many ways that it might be able to figure out a way to not... See More go through racial profiling and alienating all citizens. It's also reminding me a bit of the "We're in Alabama--we speak English" campaign a candidate for governor threw at immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries.

Excellent job--I think using the engraving on the Statue of Liberty is incredibly powerful, especially in the way that you used it.

Steph Bee

The blame game

I am always troubled by the frequent statements saying that illegal immigrants are in some way a "drain" on the US. I have often heard (including in a response to this blog) that immigrants are a drain on healthcare. Other variations include: drain on jobs/taking jobs from "real" Americans and drain on education (taking classroom space from "real" Americans). The fact is that the employers of legal and illegal immigrants pay taxes, including Medicare. Economists have now said that without these revenues -- payment into Medicare for people (illegal immigrants) who will never receive Medicare benefits -- our Medicare system would have collapsed long ago. Before we blame the immigrants for "taking" we might want to consider thanking them for contributing to a system from which all "real" Americans benefit and from which these immigrants gain nothing.

Read your blog post, I

Read your blog post, I thought it was interesting to get a view point of from a UK immigrant woman. I was surprised to find out she supported the boycott and that Maria did not. What I find interesting and amazing is the unity the controversial bill has brought upon. Latinos and immigrants are very diverse groups of people from all over the political spectrum. For a moment these groups have seemed to forget their differences and embrace their similarities. Ironically it seems like in a way the bill is backfiring by bringing awareness of injustice to people that would probably not agree on many issues, but have come together this particular issue.

Julio Arana

Almost every ethnic minority

Almost every ethnic minority in this country has had their time of oppression as a result of being the "other"...a strange, different, and unwanted presence in U.S. society. Now it's the Mexican's turn to feel the sting of "difference" in our country that claims to be the land of the free. And now it's their time to stand up for the cause and fight for a place in U.S. society as other races and ethnicities have before them.

Sarah Liz Reynoso

In my humble understanding of

In my humble understanding of the issue, the Federal govt. has had the right to enforce the current immigration law but has chosen not to. We are at a tipping point in our society. The house is full and the money is gone. No one reasonable holds anything against someone trying to feed their family. It's purely a numbers game at this point. Az. had to start somewhere. Sure, there will be abuses as there always have been but a line needs to be established. The Nazi references are a slap in the face of the real victims of torture and death. It cheapens the word and is an easy out.

--Darrell Barrett

I do agree, that with the

I do agree, that with the Arizona Law there are definitely questions of racism and profiling,but at the same time, does anyone have a better solution? I mean, yes,there can definitely be some degree of racial profiling, and I'm fearful of what types of effects this will have on ALL of a police officer's duties, and whether or not an illegal immigrant will feel safe to even report violent crimes, in fear of having to produce documentation, and if illegal women will fear (more than usual) reporting rape cases, but i think that victims or reporters of crimes could be protected in an amendment, but something needs to be done about immigration.

We can't just grant amnesty to everyone or have an open borders policy. There's no doubt that illegal immigrants are an enormous strain on our health care, and because of the lack of sufficient penalties on illegal immigration, a lot of criminals have filtered into the country that is rampant with drug-trafficking, and an economy that has lead to a lot of people to resort to shameful acts.

Don't get me wrong, not all immigrants are criminals, and i personally know some people who were upstanding "citizens" before they received documentation, but the fact remains that this is an economic sore, and if a hispanic or latino person produces a driver's license, or paperwork confirming their documentation, I'm not sure how much of a hassle officers are going to give to them.

racism at its finest

I know this has been said before, but i must say it again... like Jews had to wear the Star of David on their sleeves, immigrants will soon have to wear something like an "I". I'm definitely disgusted. Racism at its finest.

Brandy Darielle Andrews