"This is not what I was taught the American Dream was. The American Dream in my eyes is everyone having equal rights.... I just want to let America know that this is not fair, what they're doing to us is not fair, because my dad was stopped for no reason. I don't think that wearing landscaper clothes and having brown skin [is] a crime."
This is a quote from Anna, a high school student in Burlington, Washington, whose father ended up in deportation proceedings after an encounter with the police. She told her story along with dozens of other courageous witnesses at a series of hearings that the Rights Working Group (RWG) held across the country last summer. RWG, a coalition of more than 300 organizations, leads a campaign to stop racial profiling by law enforcement. We have been deeply concerned about the passage of Georgia's new anti-immigrant law -- HB 87 -- and its mandate of racial profiling.
The ACLU, one of RWG's member organizations, summarizes HB 87 as follows:
"HB 87 effectively turns Georgia into a police state... this law compels all people in the state of Georgia, citizens and non-citizens alike, to carry identification documents on them at all times, because anyone may be stopped by a police officer and asked to prove citizenship or immigration status... Moreover, the law will result in systematic racial profiling. It gives police officers discretion in choosing who should be subjected to an investigation of immigration status... This will inevitably lead to the profiling of anyone who looks or sounds 'foreign.'"
Because of the deep concerns about how HB 87 is affecting the residents of Georgia, I am joining a delegation of organizations traveling to Atlanta, Georgia, from September 28-29, to examine how HB 87 is affecting women, children and families. The delegation, "We Belong Together," will be hearing the stories of brave women, men and families - people whose rights have been violated and whose voices need to be heard. People like Anna and her father.
It's not just immigrant communities who have protested HB 87. Law enforcement officials who have worked hard to promote community policing programs have also been critical. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank testified before Congress last year that:
"By increasing our role in civil immigration action, state and local law enforcement is placed in the untenable position of potentially engaging in unconstitutional racial profiling, while attempting to maintain trust within the communities we protect. Officers are forced to detain and question individuals for looking or speaking differently from the majority, not for their criminal behavior."
According to a recent report by the Police Foundation, The Role of Local Police: Striking a Balance Between Immigration Enforcement and Civil Liberties, law enforcement leaders are concerned about laws (like HB 87) requiring the police to enforce immigration laws because of the potential impact on the relationship between immigrant communities and the police; because of the probability of reduced cooperation of witnesses and victims of crime and the subsequent impact on public safety; because of the increased victimization and exploitation of immigrants; because of the financial costs imposed on law enforcement budgets; and because of the possibility of racial profiling and other civil lawsuits being brought against police officers who are not trained immigration agents.
Racial profiling is an ineffective policing tool, as well as a violation of human rights. This week, we will raise up the voices of Georgia residents who are ready to fight back against HB 87 and racial profiling. Look for us tweeting #womentogether and join in!
Margaret Huang is the Executive Director of the Rights Working Group, a coalition formed after September 11th to restore civil liberties and human rights protections in the U.S. Read more here.
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