Debating the Merits of SB 1070

Racism, by its nature, stems from ignorance. For that reason, there is a touch of bitter irony when opponents of Arizona’s law SB 1070 call it, out of ignorance, racist. I plan on shedding light on the merits of Arizona’s law and show why it is not the law many perceive it to be. It retains the fundamental basis of our American freedom.

Before I continue, I urge anyone who has not already read the law to do so. It is very short and will help you truly understand the situation. Secondly, I want to be clear that we are only talking about SB 1070 as part of the current immigration laws. This is not a debate on immigration policies, whether you believe we should build fences or have open borders, or how much you think illegal immigrants help or hurt this country. Those are issues for another day. This is simply about the law as it relates to current federal policies and its outspoken critics.

Most critics argue that the law will unfairly target innocent Hispanics. Contrary to popular belief, however, police officers cannot simply walk up to “brown-colored” people, ask for identification and then whisk them off to prison in the Arizona dragnet. An officer must first stop a suspect for an unrelated offense before they can ask for identification. The original bill used the words “lawful contact,” an ambiguous term, but the Arizona legislation put an end to the confusion. They edited the sentence to read “lawful stop, detention or arrest.”

No longer can the bill’s opponents claim that innocent bystanders will be deported for no reason at all. For SB 1070 to have “victims,” one must first break an unrelated American law, which could range from traffic violation to drug possession to assault, and then fail to produce proper identification.

What qualifies as proper identification? We have all heard of the tremendous humiliation, pain and difficulty that legal immigrants will face as they now have to carry all sorts of identification with them: their passport, visa, birth certificate, Social Security card. I find these concerns to be overinflated.

A suspect needs to produce only one state-issued document. Among the numerous qualifying documents are: driver’s license, green card, Social Security card, visa, passport and birth certificate. All these forms of identification, with the exception of a birth certificate or passport, can easily fit in a standard wallet. Suddenly, the laborious effort of having your papers is as simple as putting a card in your wallet. Regardless of the law, many people carry these with them at all times anyways, and it is not uncommon for countries to require you to have identification. The Netherlands insists on foreign visitors always having their passports on hand. Does this mean that the Dutch are oppressive and racist? Brown requires us to have our IDs on us to enter buildings. Should we organize a protest?

The next common complaint is that this law oversteps its boundaries and walks into federal territory. A quick reading of the Arizona law will dispel this notion. It mentions numerous times that the officer shall only go as far as federal law allows and that police should turn over anyone detained to federal authorities. The Supreme Court has upheld numerous times that even with just reasonable suspicion the officer has the right to ask for the suspect to identify himself or herself, and in cases of probable cause of a crime, the officer may arrest. No matter how you paint it, illegal immigrants have all committed a crime against the United States.

The law tries its best to protect the innocent by saying, “a law enforcement official … may not solely consider race, color, or national origin.” It goes on to say that the state will punish officers for making arrests based on race, regardless of whether or not the suspect was actually illegal. Officers must rely on indicators such as poor English and fear of police, among others, before they can even ask for identification. The simple truth is that Arizona went to great lengths to make sure racism did not play a role in its fight against illegal immigration.

Even more laughable is Mexico calling the law racist. Mexico has its own troubles with its southern border and some of the stringiest immigration laws. Mexico requires, along with other standards, that every immigrant shows that he or she will be an economic asset to Mexico and they will not burden the country. Often, Mexico requires immigrants to be debt-free and possess cash reserves.

In the end, every country has the right to control its immigration, and Arizona is simply acting within the boundaries set by the federal government. Only if one assumes — based on stereotypes and unfounded beliefs — that officers are bigots who unfairly target Hispanics can they call SB 1070 racist and oppressive.


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About the author

Ryan Fleming '13 is the Editor Emeritus of the Brown Spectator. He is a Mechanical Engineering major from Southern Maryland.

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