When I was living in Korea, a Korean police officer pulled a Sikh-Canadian friend of mine over and demanded to see his documentation. My friend Joh, who was teaching English legally in Seoul, had the necessary visa to prove it. However, it was only after the incident that Joh understood why the officer wanted to see his documentation: the officer thought that Joh was an undocumented migrant worker.
Lesson number 1: Not all people who look like Joh are undocumented migrant workers.
The Korean police officer's targeting of Joh was part of a greater immigration strategy to deport people who looked like Joh from Korea. Korean immigration has carried out this strategy for years in Pocheon, where many undocumented migrant workers from the Sikh community live.
Though most Sikh members are undocumented, many are living in Korea legally. A few community members have received F2 visas through marriages, some of which are contract marriages, and some have business visas.
Lesson number 2: Not all migrant workers are undocumented.
The Gurdwara, or the Sikh Temple, in Pocheon was built 10 years ago and serves as the locus for the Sikh community. The temple welcomes all people and provides many on-site services unavailable to undocumented migrant workers, including banking and money transfers, health care, legal counseling, refuge for the jobless, homemade Indian food, and fundraising to cover transportation costs for those facing deportation.
While the Gurdwara serves as a type of asylum for the Sikh community, especially on Sikh holidays when it attracts over 500 visitors, it is also an easy target for Korean immigration officials. Korean immigration agents do not raid the Gurdwara directly, as it is a known religious center, but they do hide in plainclothes and vans outside the temple as they wait for Sikh community members to exit.
Upon confrontation, the immigration agents demand documentation, which many of the workers do not have. An estimated 10 to 30 Sikh people from Pocheon are captured each weekend and deported. Consequently, many Sikh community members fear going outside during the day. To avoid immigration raids, they work late night hours, and some live in tiny, industrial crates to reduce their chances of being captured.
Immigrants come to Korea in search of opportunity and higher paying jobs. A clear need for cheap labor exists in Korean factories, and undocumented migrant workers are willing to provide that labor in order to sustain themselves and their families.
Sikhs with legitimate businesses are suffering because of their customers' limited freedom of movement during the day. The practices also pose a threat to the Sikh family unit, even breaking up families with children who were born in Korea.
Targeting Arizona's Latinos
The bill that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently signed into law would create the kind of atmosphere that already exists in Korea. Police officers would be required to act on "reasonable suspicions" to determine people's immigration status and turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In the Arizonan context, the targets of such immigration policies are Latinos, or persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American, Dominican, and Spanish descent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people of Latino origin comprise approximately 30.1 percent of Arizona's population of over 6.5 million.
Supporters of the bill believe that it will deter undocumented Latinos from coming to the United States. Others, like Arizona Senator John McCain, who believes that illegal immigrants in vehicles are "intentionally causing accidents," think the bill will strengthen U.S. security.
The question remains as to how Arizonan police officers will be able to identify undocumented workers without resorting to discriminatory measures. According to California Congressman Brian Bilbray, police officers will do so by looking at people's clothes.
Lesson number 3: Not all Latinos wear sombreros.
The next question that arises is what Arizonan officials will do with Latinos who have adopted a more mainstream form of dress in the United States. When ethnic profiling fails, Arizonan police officers will inevitably follow in the footsteps of Korean immigration officials by racially profiling and making judgments based on skin color.
Lesson number 4: U.S. citizens may be of any race or skin color. Latinos may be of any race or skin color.
Another determining factor may be non-fluency in English.
Lesson number 5: Not all U.S. citizens are fluent in English. Many Latinos are fluent in English.
Whether police officers resort to ethnic, racial, or linguistic profiling, or perhaps a combination of three, their implementation of Arizona's new law will result in an expansive list of egregious human rights violations. Primarily, the immigration procedures would lead to arbitrary arrest without due process. Further, the bill poses a threat to the family unit with the potential of separating children from parents, compromising children's rights to education, and compromising special protections provided to pregnant women and mothers.
In terms of day-to-day living, undocumented Latinos would live much like the Sikh community does in Korea. Latinos would fear going out in pubic, with many hiding during the day to avoid contact with police officers or purposefully working late night hours to reduce their chances of falling victim to police interrogations and/or raids.
The policy would also affect the psyche of Latino Americans, who may come to feel like second-class citizens. Racial tensions could mount as targeted Latino Americans grow tired of having to prove their citizenship to police officers.
Fifteen years ago, a voter-approved initiative in California required proof of legal status to access virtually all public services. The policy created rifts in schools and communities and made fear and suspicion pervasive. California wasted tens of millions of dollars defending a law ultimately struck down as unconstitutional, thanks to the efforts of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund (MALDEF).
MALDEF, Latinos, and civil rights advocates are mobilizing against Arizona's bill, which threatens the welfare and inherent freedoms of the people of Arizona. Governor Jan Brewer is only one influential voice that believes that the United States' broken approach to immigration can be fixed with fundamentally flawed and discriminatory practices. But if there is one lesson that can be drawn from any of this, it is that voices like Brewer's can and should be overpowered.
Lesson number 6: Hay que seguir luchando.