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Law-enforcement Leaders Agree: State Anti-immigrant Laws Encourage Discrimination

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In our struggle to make a more perfect nation, the liberty of all Americans is at risk.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States is slated to hear oral arguments regarding Arizona's discriminatory, anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070.

Signed into law nearly two years ago by Gov. Jan Brewer, S.B. 1070 authorizes law enforcement officers to arrest someone without a warrant based on reasonable suspicion that the individual is in violation of civil immigration laws, including being in the country without authorization. The idea has caught on in other states, and still more could decide to replicate it if the Supreme Court upholds any part of the law.

With good reason, citizens and immigrants alike have been distressed by the specter of racial profiling -- the idea that appearances alone could raise "reasonable suspicion." Such concerns were magnified when one lawmaker supporting S.B. 1070 said undocumented immigrants can be identified by "the kind of dress [they] wear, there is different type of attire, there is different type of -- right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes."

As far as I know, the Constitution did not come with a dress code.

Alarmed by the potential impact of S.B. 1070 on law enforcement, 44 former state attorneys general from both sides of the aisle and all regions of the country submitted an amicus curiae -- "friend of the court" -- brief in support of the United States, expressing a range of concerns regarding S.B. 1070.

The brief, which was led by Democratic and Republican former attorneys general from Arizona, argued, "S.B. 1070 harms the public interest, often irreparably by adversely affecting state and local law officials' efforts to fight crime, secure convictions, and make communities safer for all individuals."

As public safety leaders, these amici, or co-signers, confronted an ugly truth when they offered, "Despite the statements of Petitioners' amici to the contrary, amici are confident that application of the law requires racial profiling."

In other words, 44 former statewide law enforcement officials are confident that people who look or sound like an immigrant will be profiled because of S.B. 1070, reducing law enforcement's ability to secure convictions against dangerous criminals.

Is it right for a military veteran to get harassed for his birth certificate just because he's of Mexican heritage?

Is it right for a mother of Asian or Latino background who speaks with an accent to get asked for her passport -- right in front of her children -- when her white friend next to her does not?

Is it right to create a culture of suspicion in an America that becomes more diverse every day?

No. That's not who we are as a country.

At its heart, America is an idea, not an ideology. And the idea that all men (and women) are created equal is unique to America. Once we allow law enforcement to ask someone for identification because they look less equal, the idea of America weakens.

From our early days as a nation, we've fought for the ideal that how you live your life, not what you look like, is what makes you American. Work, family, trust: These are the characteristics that make America great.

And we are better off -- spiritually and economically -- when good people from around the world come to America to enjoy the blessings of liberty. We enjoy the benefits of their contributions to our culture, our communities, and our country.

As Alexis De Tocqueville put it, "America, then, exhibits in her social state an extraordinary phenomenon. Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune and intellect, or, in other words, more equal in their strength, than in any other country of the world."

We are better than S.B. 1070.

Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum.