For anybody who has lived in Arizona this past decade, these tensions are well known. The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector is heavily trafficked by smugglers of both human and drug cargo. Phoenix is now America’s kidnapping capital—most of which are directly related to Mexican drug cartels.
Given these problems, when a law is presented to the people of Arizona as a tool to combat border crime, it will easily garner public support. As evidenced by its title, “The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”, SB 1070 is being presented as exactly that: a public safety measure. Unsurprisingly, 70% of Arizona voters support the measure, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.
Unfortunately, SB 1070 does not address these problems. Instead, the bill makes two fundamental mistakes. First, it attacks crime in an inefficient and counterproductive way. The belief that state authorities will be able to curtail border related crime via individual traffic stop is untenable. Ultimately, vast amounts of police resources will be devoted to detaining and deporting people who are generally harmless. The Daily Show recently joked that Arizona is “looking for people acting suspiciously, like gardening or burping people’s babies.” As usual, a lot of truth is said in jest.
The fact is, the link between crime and illegal immigration is tenuous at best. American-born males are five times more likely to commit a crime than their foreign born counterparts. There is simply no causation between immigration and crime. Put differently, SB 1070 is completely reactionary, with little foundation in common sense.
Secondly, the bill creates an environment where American-born Latinos are likely to be accosted by police due to their ethnicity and race in order to prove their citizenship. The bill would not only encourage, but require police officers to inquire about a suspect’s legal status upon “reasonable suspicion” that they are here illegally. Despite the promises of the bill’s proponents, there is no way to predict whether somebody may be here illegally without taking their race, language, and general appearance into account. Imagine trying to decipher somebody’s immigration status over the phone, where race and ethnicity is more difficult to discern. Even then, we would be completely dependent on our suspect’s language skills—another prejudicial form of profiling that would lead to civil rights violations.
Can’t we agree that American citizens should not be subjected to police interrogation because of their race? Is this not repugnant to our values?
I spent one amazing legislative session working at the Arizona State Senate. I still have friends there and still keep in touch. However, nothing coming out of the legislature recently has surprised me. Latinos, American- and foreign-born, have been a favorite target of the legislature for a while. A similar version of SB 1070 was floating around when I was there. Another bill tried to ban “La Raza studies” in high schools because it did not “inculcate American values”. Bills were introduced creating different birth certificates for babies, despite their American citizenship, born to parents who could not provide documentation. Another popular, though fantastical, bill petitioned the federal government to redefine the 14th amendment so that children born to foreigners are not given automatic citizenship.
SB 1070 is symptomatic of a long running trend of ideas and bills that overreach at the expense of all Arizona Latinos. In Arizona, Latinos are almost a third of the population but are only a tenth of the electorate. Consequently, they are underrepresented in government, and when they are represented, they are overwhelmingly opposed to all such measures introduced by the majority. Of the eleven Latinos voting on the measure, ten voted against it. With little voice in the state, and the consequences of an awful bill looming, it is time for those who in power to do what they can to reverse this trend.
Manuel Giner of Phoenix, Arizona, is a student at Yale Law School, where he is the Chairman of the Latino Law Students Association.