Politics & Law

Arizona’s border, all of our civil rights

Rosemary Joyce

How can police in Arizona enforce the newly passed law requiring them to ask anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant for proof of citizenship?

I don’t mean this as a moral or ethical question, although 52-year-veteran Pima County Sherriff, Clarence Dupnik, calls the law “disgusting” and says that it is “unwise” and a “national embarrassment”, and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon disclaims the bill as unrepresentative of and “humiliating” for his state’s population.

What I mean is simply this: will all US citizens in Arizona now routinely be required to carry passports, or birth certificates? And if not, what happens when citizens are stopped by suspicious police who think they may be undocumented migrants?

Coverage has rightly emphasized that the law, while claiming to be aimed at supporting detention of undocumented migrants, actually creates new burdens for those immigrants who are in the US legally. Legal immigrants now must carry their papers with them at all times or risk new penalties.

But the requirement to stop anyone “reasonably” suspected of being in the US without legal permission implies more: it will almost inevitably lead to native-born citizens of Hispanic heritage being stopped and asked to produce documents proving they are in the country legally as well. The only way for a native-born citizen to do so would be to produce a birth certificate or passport.

And if the guidelines for enforcement, in order to conform with Arizona’s governor’s promise to avoid using facial appearance cues or language (racial profiling), actually do emphasize such things as the kind of shoes and clothing or haircuts presumed to typify undocumented immigrants, then there is nothing to stop police from detaining citizens of any heritage who dress ike someone’s model of what an undocumented immigrant might wear.

While it is inspiring to see US Representative Barbara Lee speak out along with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Asian Caucus to support the denunciation by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus of Arizona’s new law, in reality, everyone should oppose a law that effectively institutes a requirement for US citizens to provide proof of nationality on demand.

Only the reality lurking behind the claim that the law will not lead to racial profiling can account for the complacency of Arizona residents who imagine themselves immune from potential effects of this law.

That lurking reality: any behavioral cues proposed to identify “illegal” immigrants will not be applied to those white enough, blonde enough, tall enough, or otherwise clearly not suspect Latin Americans.”Reasonable” suspicion means more than being alert to dressing down; it means watching for supposed suspect practices among people who already are under suspicion as other.

There is no mystery about why the authors of this bill think Arizona police can avoid detaining citizens and legal residents: in their imagination, there is no difference among Latinos, whether children of families established for generations or those so desperate to escape poverty in Central America that they make the long trip to Mexico to cross the border without documents today. For those who see this law as reasonable, being Latino already makes you un-American, so even citizens should be prepared to prove their status.

This is a law that opens the door to the violation of rights of every citizen and legal resident, and outrage about this law should not be limited to those who know from experience what it is to be stereotyped based on skin color.

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Comments to "Arizona’s border, all of our civil rights":
    • Carl Williams

      Why all the fuss,nothing has changed post 08 crash were Bush stood by at the podium as Henry Paulson claimed that the sky was falling on the world financial system,and they needed 750 Billion to keep it from failing.We looked at each other and said,how can that be? and the House and Senate
      said we will never let this happen again.But as you look at Wall street it
      is Business as usual.Derivatives,buy stocks with the intention of selling them short then buy insurance against loss,and the biggest mind blower of all the Supreme found this to be legitimate and ruled in Wall streets favor
      American Business is a world wide fraud,and they proved it buy bundling
      securities and selling them to all the G7 trading partners as the best
      return for there money bordering on 12% interest and after 3 years a
      balloon and refi @ a higher interest rate.What a snow job and all those fools in all those Banks world wide that supposedly were professional Bankers bought in to the biggest ponzi scam in history.There greed outweighed common sense. why do we still have hope as long as it is Business as usual?

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    • Carl Williams

      Report abuse,therty years of Bad Government,Richard Nixon,suspending the Brinton woods act set in place October 26 1945 to insure the continued monitary worth of Democracy.Gold backed the Doller.After the suspention Gold soured to 848 dollars in 1979,18% interest rate.money world wide fluded here.Yet prosperity for the middle class slumped,shank at an alarming rate.Jimmy Carter was was tossed out by the failure of rescueing the hostages in Iran.Good old Boy,Ronald Raygun found new ways to punder the the American peoples trust,remove regulations put on by FDR,in the therties,then Good old Boy George Bush Sr. found newer ways to undermine the regulations.Clinton removed FTC regs alowing hedge fund traders to sell short,take insurance against loss,bulding empires like Goldman Sacks etc,etc,etc,plundering pension funds,small time no get it traders. Big time get it types like Hennry Paulson,with George Bush Jr’s help to tell the World that the sky is falling on wall street—– Bailout of everything,CEO’s of all the major playors Get Big Bonuses,for bad performance.Hence no money in the till to help the economy recuver from the Biggist Rip off in Western economic Histor.And now the right has the &%$#@# to say the real problem is the Obamanatoin of America.Can anyone look me in the eye and tell me they could fix a mess like the one the Repulicans,with the help of some of the Democrats put this not so bright shining country on the hill in?

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    • Carl Williams

      We the people are the ones the usirpers work for, constitutional amendments guarantee the secureing of the borders. If they don’t the state must take the responceability or they are in violation of the constitution. What part of ilegal is not understud

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    • Lana Paris

      “California is the only state with a legislature run by minority rule. Because it takes a 2/3 vote of both houses to either pass a budget or raise revenue via taxation, 33.4 percent of either house can block the entire legislative process until it gets what it wants.”

      I realize that you are a linguist who specializes in Orwellian language twisting, but how stupid do you think we are? A legislature run by minority rule? No, what the 2/3 requirement means is that 66.4 percent–the MAJORITY–must consent to changes in the law. The majority must consent that additional taxes, regulations, etc. are required.

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    • Anthony St. John

      “This is a law that opens the door to the violation of rights of every citizen and legal resident, and outrage about this law should not be limited to those who know from experience what it is to be stereotyped based on skin color” is chillingly well stated Rosemary and the fact is that “door” has been opened far too many times already. Your warning must be heeded and acted upon to protect the U.S. Constitution and the Rule of Law, but many other great warnings like yours such as President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to the Nation almost half a century ago have been continuously marginalized to our increasing peril.

      The reality is that during the 20th century far too many countries created conditions of holocaust for their own citizens in Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East and South America while far too many countries and international organizations like the UN and religions that were supposed to protect humanity and morality watched and did nothing instead.

      “It can happen again” is the most hideous truth about humanity that we learned during the WWII holocaust, and as the world population continues to outgrow earth’s resources to maintain an acceptable quality of life we have already become own worst enemy.

      Make no mistake about it, American Democracy is continuously threatened by the politics of hate, race, greed, power, religion, etc. today as much as it has ever been since the Civil War. Our Supreme Court has attacked the Rule of Law for political purposes far too many times while most recently the Bush Autocracy tried to rewrite and/or ignore the U.S. Constitution to satisfy their own Neocon agenda to maximize their own personal power and wealth at the expense of We The People is the latest example.

      As historians Will and Ariel Durant documented in their Lessons of History “When a civilization declines, it is through no mystic limitation of a corporate life, but through the failure of its political or intellectual leaders to meet the challenge of change.” But one of our greatest failures is also our failure to learn from the lessons of history far too many times.

      Rosemary, it is time for someone like yourself to be a spokesperson for humanity and make the right things happen to protect humanity for our grandchildren and future generations.

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    • Bill Johnson

      It is interesting to me that anyone can be fined or jailed for not possessing health insurance, car insurance, auto registration, auto inpsection(in many states) but one’s citizenship status cannot be questioned.

      Proof of insurance coverge is required and a valid ID is required at a bank when cashing a check, even fingerprints are required by some banks to cash some checks but to question citizenship is forbidden. This is hypocracy by those who argue against the law. Clearly this is a political move to gain votes for one side.

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    • There is a vast difference between the government’s role in requesting proof that people are complying with laws, and a law that creates a completely unprecedented potential that makes it advisable for even citizens of the United States to carry proof of their right to be in this country.

      We do not have a national identity card, which sets us off from many other countries, and we should be wary of giving up this liberty. You must obtain a passport for international travel to prove to other nations that you are a citizen of the United States. This passport is a guarantee of recognition of your citizenship when crossing the border to re-enter the United States. But there is no requirement to obtain a passport if you chose not to leave the country; and in the absence of a passport, the only proof of citizenship that most US citizens would be able to produce would be a birth certificate, not something anyone routinely carries. This law creates a new danger, a new burden, and deprives us of a degree of freedom we should cherish.

      I have a rather unusual sense of what it feels like as a US citizen to be asked to produce proof of citizenship. Some years ago, before I came to Berkeley, I traveled to Calgary, Alberta for a conference. Since I grew up on the border with Canada, crossing by car for day trips and overnight vacations without having to carry proof of US citizenship, I did not think to pack my US passport. And indeed, I did not need it to enter Canada. But when I attempted to board my plane to return to the US, the US immigration agents wanted proof of my citizenship; something I then learned was expected of air passengers although not– in those days– necessary for land crossings. As I stood there trying to think what other documents I had that would prove to the US immigration agents that I was, as I said, born in the US, I had a profound realization of how unusually privileged we are not to face challenges of our rights as citizens in everyday life. Since I conduct research in Central America, where I was used to producing my passport whenever requested, it was not that I had never experienced the need to prove my right to be in a country. But in the US, we citizens have not been required pre-emptively to prove that we are citizens.

      No great purpose is served in Arizona by changing the fundamental status of all of us from presumed innocent to presumed guilty. No fundamental values of the US are reinforced by forcing people to prove they belong here.

      There is no hypocrisy in arguing forcefully for the values of this country. The hypocrisy comes from those who try to pretend that the Arizona law can work without singling out some people for their appearance, potentially treating some citizens as less clearly belonging here than others.

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    • The passing of this legislation was a desperate act by the State of Arizona. I do not think it has been well thought out at all. It places undue burdens on minorities who will certainly be pestered by the police. this law should be repealed.

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    • Jang Park

      It’s amazing that even at Cal, the fact that Asians are also hugely impacted by Arizona immigration law is completely ignored. Asians are the original “perpetual foreigners” in American society and four Asian countries (Philippines, India, Korea, and China) are in the top ten countries of birth for undocumented immigrants. In fact, due in part to overwhelming–and rightful–concerns for Latino racial profiling, I’m willing to bet that Asians will be a target for the first wave of enforcement.

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    • It is worth noting that, contrary to the image of the undocumented immigrant passing from Mexico into Arizona as always a Latin American, there is a substantial level of Chinese immigrants who attempt entry of the US from Central America. In January this year, the New York Times reported that “the number of Chinese immigrants arrested while illegally crossing the border into Arizona through the busiest smuggling corridor in the United States increased tenfold” over the preceding year. So yes, it is absolutely the case that Arizona has just authorized, and more, now requires, police officers to stop people who are suspected immigrants of Asian descent as well. This is, as my post notes, everyone’s problem, because it is an affront to everyone’s civil rights, and no person or group can assume they are immune to targeting.

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    • Professor Joyce, I feel that you have clarified this issue, at least for me. Thank you for your views. I see much more clearly than before that this is not appropriate legislation for the removal of illegal immigrants. Furthermore, I believe this legislation imposes an unnecessary fear upon those who might consider themselves suspect to the legitimacy of their being here in the United States. This undue fear has no place in this nation. This is an example of poor policymaking, poor legislation, and poor foresight on the part of the many legislators who took part in enacting this law, and creating worry, fear, and imposing undue control upon Americans.

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