A bill that would require Arizona police to stop and interrogate people about their immigration status if they have brown skin or speak Spanish is sitting on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk –and it looks like she just might sign it into law.
If Brewer signs the bill giving the state the power to enforce federal immigration law the repercussions would usher in a police-state mentality in Arizona that would go well beyond the immigrant community.
All brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people in Arizona – including those who are just visiting the state – would be subject to questioning by police. The definition of “reasonable suspicion” that would allow cops to stop people is murky – one California legislator even suggested it could be based on someone’s assessment of a person’s clothes or shoes.
And it wouldn’t just be brown-skinned Spanish speakers at risk of being stopped by police – read this legal interpretation from Gabriel “Jack” Chin, a University of Arizona law professor and constitutional-law expert who has spent years crafting other bills and thinks this law is poorly written.
It was published Thursday in the Arizona Republic:
“If the person was born in Mexico and doesn’t have satisfactory identification, I would think there is probable cause to arrest that person for violation of this section: There is evidence they are not a U.S. citizen (foreign birth), they do not have any evidence they are authorized to live in the United States. . . . I would say the answer is: If you look Mexican or Hispanic or Asian or Black, then you should carry ID because there’s already some evidence that you could fall into this category.”
The proposed law has earned Arizona scorn from most of the rest of the country and condemnation from many, including the Catholic Church, President Barack Obama and New Mexico’s own Governor Bill Richardson. Police chiefs across the nation have panned the bill, legal experts question whether the law is constitutional and civil rights advocates call it outright racial profiling.
Could a draconian law like Arizona is considering ever pass in New Mexico? That’s what everyone I’ve been talking to wants to know.
I asked Rachel LaZar, executive director of the local immigrant rights group EL CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos, whether she thought New Mexicans would ever tolerate a law like the Arizona proposal.
“I am optimistic that policies such as those in Arizona won’t be passed in New Mexico, but we must be vigilant and continue to work together as a community to ensure that doesn’t happen,” she said.
LaZar said that, unlike in Arizona, public and private organizations in New Mexico have worked together for many years to cultivate an atmosphere where immigrants are treated with respect.
“New Mexico has a proud history of passing non-discrimination policies that are conducive to immigrant integration,” she said. “These policies are a result of recognizing the long history of cyclical migration in New Mexico, cultural connections, the recognition of shared values, and due to successful organizing and advocacy efforts led by immigrants leaders, elected officials, unions, faith leaders, and civil rights/civil liberties organizations.”
It is important to note that, if passed in New Mexico, a law like the one being considered in Arizona would affect much more than just immigrants.
Anyone who is brown and speaks Spanish could be subject to interrogation – including your primo from Cruces or your tia from Chama – and would be well-advised to keep identification with them at all times.
Precious and scarce police resources could be drawn away from serious crimes.
Passage of the bill could spark a tourism boycott like the one they are expecting in Arizona, and further damage our already precarious economy.
And studies show the atmosphere of suspicion and increased attention to people’s skin color and language could well lead to a spike in hate crimes.
“It is important to understand that anti-immigrant policies have an impact on native born Latino/Hispanics as well, subjecting them to higher incidences of racial profiling, discrimination in the workplace, and hate crimes,” said LaZar. “That is an additional reason for immigrants and non-immigrants in New Mexico to collectively oppose these types of proposals.”
So New Mexicans, please: Let’s not let what’s happening in Arizona ever happen here. We are better than that.