New Law Sparks National Dialogue
Posted by egehl on April 29, 2010
Will it provoke racial profiling? Will it address the influx of illegal immigrants coming into the country? Can a state make its own rules? Can police handle this added responsibility?
These and many other questions have been raised as the nation reacts to the recently passed Arizona law that would require law enforcement to check the residency status of those thought to be in the country illegally. Arizona police now have the right to stop anyone on “reasonable suspicion” that they may be an illegal immigrant, and arrest them if they are not carrying a valid driver’s license or identity papers. Which means that citizens will have to carry their papers with them at all times otherwise they could be arrested or detained.
The law signed by Governor Jan Brewer last week has sparked a national uproar and discussion about immigration in this country and what action should be taken to address our growing illegal immigrant population.
The main arguments against the Arizona law is that it will increase racial profiling, put untrained police in an impossible position and lose the public’s trust. Police unions and leading law enforcement agencies were divided on the issue because police face such contradicting missions. They would now have to enforce immigration and criminal laws at the same time, therefore an already stressed out police force untrained in immigration enforcement would be pulled in an entirely new direction.
Racial profiling happens everyday in this country as minorities must face heavier scrutiny and suspicion. Therefore immigrant rights groups are very worried that because of this new law people who look Hispanic or have Hispanic surnames will be automatically stopped and questioned only based on their skin, not for sincere concerns.
A significant aspect of law enforcement in recent years has been “community policing” where cops get to know local residents and make time to gain their trust. This law would put all of that at risk as paranoia and suspicion will increase about the true motives of a police officer. Therefore immigrants will be less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses if their legal status is going to be questioned.
Proponents of the new law argue that it is needed to control illegal immigration. Specifically, the legislator who sponsored the law says “it will not change a thing for lawful citizens. It simply takes the handcuffs off law enforcement and allows them to do their job. Our legal citizens have a constitutional right to expect protection of federal law against noncitizens. When those laws are not enforced, our citizens are denied equal protection.”
There is no doubt this bill will alter the national discussion about immigration and spark a heated debate about how we should tackle the issue of a growing immigrant population. I predict that immigration will be the next big policy to come up in Congress as a result of this development. And the debate will be as tense, polarized and heated as healthcare reform because opposing sides feel very passionate and emboldened by their view of how to address this issue.
Personally I think a compromise needs to be struck that doesn’t provoke racial profiling, but also ensures the safety of citizens and addresses the criminal acts that have taken place in states like Arizona by illegal immigrants. However there’s a big difference in targeting immigrants who are actually doing criminal acts, and stopping innocent people who are suspected to be illegal and arresting them simply because they don’t have all of their forms on them.
I sympathize with both sides of this argument, but believe in the end this bill will do more harm than good. I think it will overwhelm the police force, cause fear and distrust in the Hispanic community, prevent witnesses to come forth to testify and unintentionally hurt innocent people.
The new law is so vague and “reasonable suspicion” leaves a lot of room for unwarranted assumptions to be made. And if police are not properly trained the room for mistakes will increase. There are many hard working, law-abiding, legal immigrants working and living in this country and while I understand the need to address the illegal population, we should do it in a way that won’t create more problems than solve them.