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Louis Provenzano

Louis Provenzano

Posted: May 7, 2010 10:01 AM

Arizona's Immigration Law: Racial Profiling at Its Worst as 10 States Explore Copycat Legislation

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Scrutiny of Arizona's new immigration law SB1070 continues to heat up with everyone from President Obama to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, even Republican candidate for Senate Marco Rubio in Florida denouncing it while at the same time legislators in at least 10 states including Utah, Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Maryland calling for copycat laws.

There is no doubt in the minds of the Hispanic community and a variety of other legal immigrant groups that this is racial profiling, and there are constitutional amendments and a host of other laws to back up that assertion.

Mark B. Evans, who writes "Caveat Lector" for TucsonCitizen.com, shares these legal conflicts in a recent column: the 14th Amendment (requires equal protection under the law and prohibits racial profiling); the 5th Amendment (protects us from self-incrimination and requires due process); presumption of innocence (we're all innocent until proven guilty; the state must prove its case against us, not the other way around); and proof of citizenship (neither the 14th Amendment nor the 1798 Naturalization Act which establish citizenship require anyone in the United States to carry proof of citizenship).

The federalists are lining up to build their case against the law. Rubio - a proponent of small government who'd still rather see immigration handled at the federal level than by the states - believes immigration policy is one of the things the federal government can do effectively. Villaraigosa called the law "unpatriotic and unconstitutional" and supports a boycott of Arizona by the city of Los Angeles. And, Obama called our current immigration system "broken" but stressed the solution must come from Washington, not the states with harsh consequences if it doesn't: "If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country."

Meanwhile, Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican and the bill's sponsor, simply calls Arizona's new law reasonable. Popular opinion sits somewhere in between at anywhere from 51 percent in favor of the law (New York Times/CBS poll) to 60 percent for it (Investor's Business Daily).

The most stringent immigration law in the country requires anyone suspected - using race neutral criteria - of being in the country illegally to produce a green card or other proof of citizenship, such as a passport or Arizona driver's license. The law goes into effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends, probably in May.

One of the first in the growing list of legal challenges to the law was filed in federal court in Tucson last week by a local police officer, Martin Escobar, who said there is no way "race neutral" criteria can be used to determine whether someone is in this country illegally. Others filing suit include the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), a Washington, D.C., group which represents more than 20,000 Christian churches. The cities of Tucson and Flagstaff both filed suit on Tuesday.

Officer Escobar said more than half the residents in the area of Tucson where he polices are Hispanic and potential profiling targets under the new law. So are the more than 24 million Mexican citizens who visit Arizona each year legally.

That's a lot of people to harass. There has to be a better way.

"Governor (Jan) Brewer and the Arizona legislature have set Arizona apart in their willingness to sacrifice our liberties and the economy of this state," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. "By signing this bill into law, Brewer has just authorized violating the rights of millions of people living and working here. She has just given every police agency in Arizona a mandate to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign, while doing nothing to address the real problems we're facing."

Getting lost in the federal vs. state's rights debate is the true composition of this country - the world's greatest melting pot ever. Most experts put the number of spoken languages in the U.S. at nearly 200. They represent hundreds of cultures and ethnicities, and that's a really good thing to be celebrated, not stifled. (Some argue the number of languages in New York City alone is closer to 800.) In fact, more than 24 million of us speak a language other than English, and laws like this one make millions of us targets for harassment. These are legal immigrants who make their homes here, and they deserve to be left alone to live their lives - regardless what language they speak, or the color of their skin, or whether they sound or seem foreign.

Arizona's law is racial profiling at its worst, and it forces police officers who know better but are just doing their jobs to harass millions of innocent legal immigrants who have done absolutely nothing wrong but be born a race other than white.