The Arizona anti-immigration law or simply SB 1070 has caused a national uproar in the United States. It has come under great criticism as permitting racial profiling. “The law is the first in America to give police the power to stop anyone and demand proof of their legal residence in the country merely out of suspicion of their legal citizenship such as lack of appropriate papers” (Alfano 2). Failure to produce the documents would then easily land a person in jail. “The bill makes it a crime for a legal immigrant not to carry their alien registration papers and allows the police to arrest any immigrant who is not able to produce them” (White 3).
Background and influence
The Arizona law just like many other states laws was largely influenced by the legislation and the executive. Proponents and opponents mainly followed party lines with majority of the republicans voting for the bill in senate while most democrats opposed it. For bills to be passed into law, there has to be an introduction in to the House or Senate where an initial reading takes place and thereafter it goes to a chamber’s committee on laws and the law went through the same process (Whittell 2). The committee which has the ability to kill a bill by not acting on it took it into consideration and later issued a report in favor of it.
The executive, in this case president Obama, aired his opinion but was not actively involved in campaigning for or against the bill as it was not even expected of him since its not a federal law. He is however quoted as saying the law is “ill-conceived” but at the same time confessed that the country’s current federal immigration laws and system is broken. (National Conference of State Legislatures 3). The president also played an indirect role through other departments such as that of justice which went ahead and filed a successful lawsuit against the law. Even though the United States is today a very democratic country where citizens have a big say on laws they want and those that they don’t, the president is still very influential in the process of making laws.
Role of the law in other areas of concern
The law is viewed by proponents as a right direction to fighting crime. Most immigrants lack the same economic opportunities as other citizens. Many take a lot of time to settle down or find a job and have no government support. As a result, they may be easily tempted to engage in criminal activities to fend for themselves. The law is considered a step in the right direction towards preventing such scenarios. Kidnappings are on the rise in Arizona and many other states, a trend largely attributed to the large number of unemployed immigrants in the country. Most hypocritical of the law is the fact that experts fail to mention that the same immigrants are the biggest victims of the kidnappings. It is ironical that people who are victims of a crime are being discriminated by a law intending to fight the same crime.
Border security is a major concern for the country. Estimates for illegal immigrants in the country range from 6 to 20 million (Immigration Policy Center 2). The biggest concern is how such a large number of people have managed to enter the country. It raises questions over how safe borders are and how many harmful products get into the country illegally. Recent killings in the Mexican border and drugs being trafficked into the country give proponents of the Arizona anti-immigration law a good basis for their argument.
Proponents also argue that it is time the government stopped illegal immigrants from coming to America, getting free things and creating high levels of competition for basic goods, services, utilities and other benefits. It is a well known fact that immigrants impose costs on almost everything including medical care and education. The health system is a key issue in the fight against illegal immigrants. A possibility to reduce the cost of healthcare by reducing immigrants helps the law gain more support.
The Arizona law and racial profiling
Perhaps the biggest concern raised by this bill is racial profiling. One way through which racism attests, is through racial profiling. Racial profiling is condemnable and wrong and if it were to be called by its real name, it is discrimination based on color. As White put it, “ asking police officers to racially profile as a preemptive legal measure-by-force to deter possible illegal immigration is unthinkably wrong and every American is well aware or should be aware of this” (2). The Arizona anti-immigration law has been condemned widely as being permission for racial profiling.
At a federal level, this bill contradicts the Fourth Amendment of the U.S constitution which “guarantees citizens the right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause” (Riccardi 4). The law also assures all citizens of equality regardless of race, religion, cultural believes and any other factor that may differentiate the people of America. In 2001, president Bush declared that racial profiling was wrong and the nation was doing all it could to stop it. In 2002, the Attorney General then is on record saying that the administration opposed racial profiling and was doing more than it had ever done in history to indicate its commitment. By 2003, the department of justice had already issued a guidance forbidding any form of racism by anyone including the federal law agencies. The Arizona anti-immigration law however leaves one wondering; what factors does the federal government consider before declaring a law as one supporting racial profiling and is America governed by the people’s interests or changing administrations?
Proponents of the law argue that “the law enforcement officers do not target race but rather target certain characteristics that are often correlated with race” (Alfano 2). The big concern here again is how easy it is to separate the two. They also claim that racial profiling is a legitimate tool in special situations where statistics and demographics are used to increase the usefulness of law enforcement resources. For example, it is estimated that at any particular time, there are more black people in jail than there are whites, drawing a conclusion that more blacks are in violation of the law and making them more targeted by law enforcement agencies. Such conclusions however, leave many wondering whether the law is supposed to identify and take action against violators or most probable violators.
Criticism has been high on the law. Any time race is used as a factor in any sort of suspicion, an individual’s rights are violated. Civil liberties organizations such as Amnesty International have clearly stated that “racial profiling is a form of discrimination arguing that discrimination based on race, nationality, religion, ethnicity or any other identity undermines basic freedom and human rights of that person” (Whittell 2). The concern raised here is whether such laws make it more or less likely for an individual to be stopped by law enforcement agencies based on their race or any other particular identity.
Critics further raise concerns over how everything is blamed on immigrants yet the real problems are not addressed. When people cant accomplish their responsibilities as entrusted to them by citizens, such as providing affordable health care and enough job opportunities, they find excuses and immigrants are part of the list of excuses. What happens to legal immigrants whose rights will be abused by passing such a law? Should every person of color suffer because few people from neighboring countries have failed to follow immigration laws? When there are new laws everyday protecting people of different identities such as sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and many other, how then is it that laws which undermine efforts for racial equality should be allowed.
In other countries such as France, immigration laws are strict and police are allowed by the law to demand documents in public places such as highways, parks and subways, raising the question of whether American’s are over-reacting or they have genuine concerns. The fact that Arizona becomes the first state in the US to sign into law such a bill, seems to have put the issue on the spot in a huge way. It demands that people carry their immigration and citizenship documents everywhere with them and allows police officers to stop people anytime, anywhere, and demand for them. Failure to produce the documents could then land one in jail and the same law proposes that such an offender should not be entitled to bail.
The fact that Obama’s government was willing to challenge the law is a clear sign that the critics’ concerns were not exaggerated. The law definitely required some scrutiny and considerations before implementation. The department of justice went ahead and filled a lawsuit against it. A ruling by the federal court in Phoenix on 28 July blocked implementation of key sections of the law perhaps to the relief of critics (Citizens Against Gambling Expansion 2). Among the sections blocked included “those which give a police officer authority to investigate the immigration status of individuals if they are suspected to be in the country unlawful and mandatory detention of individuals arrested even on minor offenses if they are not able to verify their legal presence in the country”. The ruling though a great relieve to critics of the law, leaves the department of justice under a great spotlight over their commitment to fight illegal immigrants in the country. The government definitely needs to find better ways of dealing with immigrants without interfering with people’s rights of freedom and equal treatment.
Alfano, Newton. Arizona Immigration Law SB1070. Web.
Citizens Against Gambling Expansion. Making Law. Web.
Immigration Policy Center. Immigration and Crime. Web.
National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona’s Immigration Enforcement Laws: An Overview of SB1070 and HB 216. Web.
Riccardi, Nicholas. “Racial Profiling in Arizona? That’s Nothing New, Critics Say.” Los Angeles Times. Web.
White, Deborah. “Arizona Law Questions: Racial Profiling, States’ Rights, National ID, Illegal Hiring.” Deborah’s US Liberal Politics Blog. Web.
Whittell, Giles. “Arizona Bill Puts Racial Profiling into Law.” The Sunday Times. Web.