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Keith Rushing Headshot

The Real Motivation Behind Arizona's Ugly SB 1070

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Those of us who support the right of immigrants to live normal lives free of the alienation, ghettoizing and fear that result from xenophobic policies drenched in racism are, of course, disgusted by the Supreme Court's decision to allow the racial profiling provision of SB 1070 to go into effect.

The racial profiling provision authorizes police to ask anyone they stop for a driving infraction or other offense to produce residency documents if they reasonably suspect the person is undocumented. While the Court upheld SB 1070's racial profiling provision, the decision leaves open the possibility for the law to be overturned on other grounds and allows opportunities for the lower courts to keep the law from going into effect based on challenges from civil rights groups.

But, as written, the law requires police to ask anyone they stop for a driving infraction or other offense to produce residency documents if they reasonably suspect the person is undocumented. If allowed to go into effect, this law would only further open the floodgates of racism.

Law enforcement officers who are alarmed about America becoming less white and get annoyed when someone speaks a foreign language they don't understand will now more easily be able to target people of color. (Just last month the U.S. Census reported that the majority of children under age 1 are children of color. White babies are now... gasp!... a minority!) Under SB 1070 anyone with darker skin -- not only Latinos, but African Americans, Native Americans, and people of Asian, Arab or Middle Eastern descent as well as those who are of mixed racial backgrounds -- will be in the crosshairs.

Police officers will decide who has to produce papers based on who they think looks American and who doesn't, which means people of color will be less likely to be given the benefit of the doubt. Targeting people, particularly in communities of color, will not be that hard, for, as police will tell you, if you follow a motorist long enough you can find a legal reason to pull them over.

And even those officers who resent the imposition of this law that burdens them with becoming immigration enforcement agents may feel they have no choice but to enforce it. They, too, may feel compelled to ask anyone with an accent or anyone who doesn't fit their image of what an American looks like for residency documents. Such officers may know that this law is bad from a public safety standpoint because it will ruin trust and alienate them from communities of color whose help they need to solve crimes, yet asking for documents is simply what the law requires.

What will happen next is predictable. People, those who are xenophobic and racist, will think of ways to purge their communities of Latinos. The number of complaints of violations of city ordinances, which could involve something as minor as a noise complaint or as insignificant as having excessively long grass, will provide a rationale for calling the police or a city agency and attempting to purge one's neighborhood of brown people.

SB 1070 lacks safeguards against racial profiling because it was not motivated by concerns about racial sensitivity and fairness. In fact, the law was motivated by the opposite impulse, racial anxiety and nativism and the desire to keep America as white as possible.

The law was written by Kris Kobach, an activist attorney and member of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

In 1993, FAIR founder John Tanton wrote eugenicist and ecology professor Garrett Hardin the following: "I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that."

In 1986, he warned of white people's power declining, saying: "As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?"

SB 1070 was fueled by fear of the other. Fear of difference. It is the same fear that led to the "birther movement" and for some to suspect Obama wasn't born in America. The birthers can't accept the idea of living in a time period when America elected its first black president. Surely there must be some plot, some international conspiracy involved in his election, so the thinking goes, because being elected to the highest office in the land shouldn't be possible for a black man.

America, indeed, has a long and troubling past of racial discrimination, institutionalized and systemic, like segregation in the Jim Crow South, the discriminatory internment of people of Japanese heritage during World War II and a culture of extra legal, individualized and societal racism. SB 1070 comes as no surprise. Yet, there is also a tradition of fighting against it, including the work of abolitionists before the civil war and the multiracial groups of civil rights activists -- including Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney who died fighting to register black voters in Mississippi in 1964.

This is definitely a time for those who support fairness, equality and inclusiveness to stand up and denounce this law and call for federal action to ban racial profiling, such as passage of the End Racial Profiling Act, which would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, national origin, ethnicity, religion or gender by law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level.