“They come to our country and refuse to learn our language.”
“They work for less money than we can afford to because they’re used to a lower standard of living.”
“They raise the costs for the rest of us in so many areas, and then just send they money they make back to their home country.”
Are the above quotes about today’s problems with illegal Mexican immigrants?
Or do they reference Benjamin Franklin’s fears of German immigrants back in 1751, when he said:
“Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them… ?”
As Franklin’s quote and the many other letters he wrote about the German immigrant problem show, the idea of the United States losing its identity to “outsiders” of one race or another is not a new one. While most of us are proud that our country is a “melting pot,” some also fear that one ingredient might become too strong and ruin the rest of the soup.
Benjamin Franklin feared that the overwhelming ingredient would be German. That fear didn’t come true. Today, new legislation passed in Arizona shows that the feared ingredient is Mexican.
Arizona’s new law (SB 1070) requires local and state police to stop everyone they “reasonably suspect” is an undocumented immigrant. If the suspect fails to produce papers to prove their legal right to be in the country, the police must arrest them.
This, of course, begs the question: What does an undocumented immigrant look like?
When asked, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer could only say “I don’t know what an undocumented person looks like.”
More importantly, what factors need to be present for a police officer to have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an undocumented immigrant? Now, to be fair, the bill does state that the police “may not solely consider race, color, or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.” Without this language, the law would never pass the review of the Supreme Court. With it, the law probably will.
The key word there, though, is “solely.” If a police officer stops someone of Mexican descent, Courts will throw out the arrest if the officer admits that he did it only because the person looked Mexican. Is a policeman really going to say “Oh yeah, I stopped that guy because he looked Mexican.” Isn’t it more likely he’d have a whole laundry list of other factors that he can claim he considered? All they need to do is come up with one, and the decision to stop the person wasn’t “solely” based on national origin.
- “He was driving a van without windows in the back, and those are often used to transport illegal immigrants.”
- “He was on the corner outside Home Depot, and illegal immigrants often wait there to be picked up for home improvement projects.”
- “He was buying a Spanish-language newspaper, and illegal immigrants are less likely to be able to speak the English language.”
Which of the above would be enough? Who knows? The law definitely doesn’t tell us, but experience says that Courts will give the police a free pass on every one.
What’s worse is that a person who is stopped has to show papers to prove their citizenship. Anyone who has filled out employment paperwork knows that a drivers’ license alone is not proof of citizenship. But how many of us walk around with our passports or birth certificates? If you look like an undocumented immigrant and want to visit Arizona, now is your chance to potentially become national news.
At the end of the day, it’s clear exactly what this legislation is about. If you’re tall, blond-haired, and blue-eyed, it’s pretty unlikely the Arizona State Police are going to stop you on suspicion of being an undocumented Swedish immigrant, even if you’re speaking Swedish right in front of them. This is legislation born of fear: the same fear that consumed Benjamin Franklin when he warned of the impending German takeover of our culture. It’s the same fear that led to the holding of U.S. Citizens of Japanese descent in concentration camps during WWII. As foretold by Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
When we let fear write our laws, we erode the fabric of what this great country is all about, whether it’s fear of losing our national identity or fear of terrorist acts. When we use this fear to justify stripping U.S. citizens of their right to walk the streets without having to show their passport to every cop who asks to see it, we betray everything that America has fought so hard to be.
You see, it’s not the rights of the undocumented immigrant that are at stake here. It’s the rights of the legal immigrant who still has an accent and other features he can’t change that are at issue. This law legalizes his harassment by the police, who are now required to stop and question him to determine his legality. Is that how we welcome our immigrants into the melting pot these days? By turning up the heat?
I’d love to hear what you think. Please feel free to comment and respond below, whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.