Magazine article USA TODAY

Let Me See Your Papers

Magazine article USA TODAY

Let Me See Your Papers

Article excerpt

THE ARIZONA "ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION" bill was signed into law April 23 and is slated to go into effect July 29 (barring the unlikely success of many legal challenges). It would require police to ask a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally. Under the law, being in the country illegally will be a state crime as well as a Federal violation. The arguments made by Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce in proposing and supporting the bill fly flagrantly in the face of everything we know about immigration, race relations, business economics, and the political context of any legislation.

First of all, "reasonable suspicion" will be determined by the visual sense of police officers. It will not be about hearing something suspicious (e.g., language or accent) until after the suspect is seen. Eyes are the first line of defense. Skin color and then racial characteristics (shape of face, hair, body size), then clothing and appearance will be locked in before the first question can be asked. So-called racial profiling is the first, natural, and necessary thing to do in defining a potentially dangerous encounter. Stopping someone in Arizona on "reasonable suspicion" will involve racial profiling. The fact that the Republican legislators and governor who supported, voted for, and signed the bill all are white is no coincidence, nor is it an incidental fact. The state is 30% Hispanic.

Most immigrants to the U.S. either came here illegally or extra-legally. Illegal immigrants around the world are a hearty breed. They are risk-takers, demonstrate the ability to endure hardship to achieve delayed rewards, think futuristically (better lives for their children), are prepared to do the hard and dirty work at the bottom of the pay scale, and, for the most part, are being pulled across borders by worker vacums created by development and economic growth. This latter reality is demonstrated not just by Arizona, but by Malaysia, South Africa, France and Europe generally, Chinese urban centers, and even Russia. This is the type of person we purportedly want in the U.S.

Following that, of the current 12,000,000-plus illegal immigrants in the U.S., about 5,500,000 came here legally, with visas, and then stayed on when their visas expired. They did not come across the Arizona border and cannot go back that way.

Most of the illegal border crossers in Arizona move with the assistance of "coyotes"--guides and facilitators who know the rugged territory along the border, who provide food and, especially, water during the trip, as well as road transportation up and through Arizona. A commonly cited cost for the crossing from Mexico is $5,000. Chinese immigrants have been known to pay $75,000. It is cheaper to fly here from Iraq, or Nigeria, or China if we decide to pull in needed labor.

The Arizona illegal immigration legislation makes a presumption that "closing the border" with Mexico is possible. It would be an engineering feat of great magnitude if a wall could be built along the entire 373 miles of Arizona's international border. Then there are the back roads to New Mexico and California. Even if it could be built, there always are tunnels. The Israelis and Egyptians are trying to resolve the tunneling along the Gaza border by sinking barriers down 20 feet below the wall. …

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