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Maintaining Liberty, Equality & Justice for All

By Shalini Pammal

With the simple stroke of her pen, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law on Apr. 23 the most far-reaching, controversial anti-immigrant law in the country. The bill criminalized almost 460,000 unauthorized immigrants for trespassing on Arizona soil, turned local police authorities into immigration enforcers, and made lawbreakers out of United States citizens who invite immigrants they know to be “illegal aliens” to have dinner in their homes, drive them to church, teach them in school, or otherwise “harbor” them.

This harsh, uncompromising piece of legislation aimed to identify, prosecute, and deport illegal immigrants solely on the basis of suspicion. Since its inception, it has rapidly led to a surge of protests and brought the issue of immigration reform to the forefront of national debate.  The law as it stands effectively allowed the police force to operate in a racist manner in order to execute the tenets of the legislation, as people are required to carry proof of legal status at all times. Additionally, people were granted the right to sue local governments and agencies who they feel are not effectively enforcing state and federal immigration laws. In all respects, the passing of this immigration bill further alienated immigrants, jeopardized the trust between citizens and the police force, and actually challenged the fundamentally just nature of our Constitution by being an open invitation for legalized harassment and discrimination against the immigrant community.

The mere act of forming assumptions based on suspicion characterizes racial profiling. This law enabled the propagation of pervasive stereotypes that the American system strives to eliminate. As it is there is a high record of police brutality and violence directed toward Latino communities in heavily immigrant-populated regions like Arizona. It seems that this law relies heavily on theory, placing an unrealistic amount of trust in law enforcement officials to remove prejudice and discriminatory attitudes from the law. Realistically speaking, however, there is no legitimate plan for enforcing this seriously flawed piece of legislation. The bill requires police officers to detain those whom they believe have committed “any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States” without even a warrant for arrest. This law thus clearly demands its officers to be agents of racial profiling.

There will be an additional strain on relations between Arizona and Mexico in the wake of this ruthless immigration law. In stigmatizing an entire population, Arizona has invited serious ramifications for its unjustly actions. Ties with Mexico have already been endangered, as the country has closed the commercial traffic border with Arizona, and in a published statement, the Mexican government asserts that this “measure could impair commercial, touristic, cultural and friendly ties ‘that have characterized the relationship of Mexico with Arizona’.” Likewise, in a show of solidarity with the targeted immigrant population in Arizona, the city of San Francisco has called for an extensive boycott of Arizona, hoping that severing ties with the state will send a clear message about the need for sweeping reform of the proposed bill. Similarly, other groups have begun to demand a boycott of the state, including a call for Major League Baseball to “step up to the plate” and boycott Arizona.

This bill is an unadulterated example of discrimination and serves to ostracize a particular group of people—Latino immigrants working and trying to survive in Arizona. It is likely that police enforcement will naturally overlook the other Russian, Polish, and Canadian immigrants that can adapt more easily to the American image and pretense. As the first state to demand that immigrants meet federal requirements to validate their presence in America, Arizona has strained any possibility for community trust in the police force, not only among immigrants but also among national allies. It is classified as a state offense—a misdemeanor—to be without immigration papers when asked to present such documents by a police officer.

For those legal citizens who happen to forget their papers, they are out of luck in the eyes of Arizona law, which calls for the arrest and detainment of such individuals. Immigrants will not want to cooperate with police in any capacity and this pervasive fear is more detrimental than beneficial to the intended progress on immigration reform that this bill seeks to advance.

It is utterly prejudiced and undue law enforcement to sanction such controversial legislation. For those red-blooded, hard-working people looking to survive in an environment where all odds are pitted against them, can the immigrant in Arizona ever begin to live the American dream? Definitely not as long as this unconstitutional piece of legislation is still enforced.

Shalini Pammal ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Leverett House.

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