Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Know It’s Cliché to Complain About Arizona…

…but their new immigration law is starting to hit close to home.

On June 8, I voted for Terry Branstad in the Iowa GOP’s governor’s primary. His leading opponent was Bob Vander Plaats, a native of my homeland, Northwest Iowa, who actually went to high school with my dad. I’m sure Mr. Vander Plaats is a decent man, and almost anyone would be better than our current governor. I voted for Branstad for two reasons: 1) he was governor for sixteen years a long time ago, and did a lot of good, and what we need now more than ever is a little competency, and 2) he’s a moderate like me. He opposes gay marriage, but unlike Vander Plaats, he’s not willing to provoke a state constitutional crisis by ordering state agencies to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses. And, significantly to me, Bob Vander Plaats supported Arizona’s new hard-line immigration law, while Branstad said he would not like to see it in Iowa.

So imagine my disappointment when Terry Branstad declared on Wednesday, “When people are stopped for a criminal violation or traffic violation, if they cannot show they are here legally, they ought to be detained and turned over to the federal government for deportation.”

Essentially, that is what the Arizona law does: when state police officers make a “lawful stop” and “reasonably suspect” that the person they have stopped is in the country illegally, they are required to demand proof of legal residence. If no proof can be produced, they are required to arrest them.

Immigrants are already required to have their green card with them at all times. But American citizens have never been required to carry proof of citizenship around with them. The very suggestion evokes thoughts of Nazi Germany and South Africa. But that’s what the Arizona law amounts to. It’s all well and good to say, “You don’t have to carry papers around if you’re a citizen – only if you’re an immigrant.” But if you can be arrested for not being able to prove that you’re a citizen, what difference does it make?*

If Arizonans were actually afraid of being arrested for forgetting their driver’s licenses or birth certificates at home, this law never would have passed. But ah! Here’s the catch. The police officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that you’re an illegal before asking for proof.
What amounts to a reasonable suspicion?

According to a training video produced by the Arizona Police Department, police are forbidden to profile by race, but can use the following indicators as a basis for “reasonable suspicion”:

• A suspect speaking English poorly.
• A suspect dressing like they’ve just crossed the desert (layers, apparently).
• A suspect being in an area where illegals are known to congregate to look for work.
• A suspect running from police.
• A suspect traveling in an overcrowded vehicle.

Uber-helpful, huh?

These guidelines notwithstanding, what cop would ever suspect a white person in an overcrowded van of being in the country illegally? That’s simply not, well, reasonable.

Thus, the only American citizens who need to worry about forgetting their papers are Latino-Americans.

Please don’t take this as an attack on the integrity of Arizona’s law enforcement personnel. Arizona police groups vigorously opposed this law, and for good reason: it gives them a mandate that’s nearly impossible to enforce. Question and detain people you suspect of being in the country illegally. Do not use race as a factor. By the way, there’s about 460,000 of them, and they’re almost all of the same race. Good luck!

Ah, the complexities that arise when a government ostensibly committed to human rights decides to try to deport 7% of its population:

The law's various requirements have baffled many lawyers, and the training materials show that even the state government is not certain what some provisions require.

For example, the law requires that all people arrested be held until the federal government verifies their immigration status. But the video says it's unclear whether this applies to arrests for any offense or just those involving possible illegal immigrants.

Additionally, the law allows any legal resident of Arizona to sue if a local agency has a "policy" against enforcing federal immigration laws, but the video warns that no one knows what that means.

(Remember that whole competency thing I was talking about at the beginning?)

So, in sum, the Arizona law:
• Is hopelessly vague,
• Effectively, if not on paper, imposes a paper-carrying requirement for a particular ethnic group in Arizona,
• And deprives 460,000 Arizona residents of a secure relationship with the state police force.

Keep in mind that the ethnic group on the business end of this law will make up 29% of the population by 2050. Are we trying to commit societal suicide?

I know that illegal immigrants broke the law of this land. I understand why some want to hold them accountable for that. But we must remember that for decades, our immigration laws were barely enforced, while our corporations, businesses and farms practically begged low-wage Latin American workers to come over. They are here because of our demand for their labor, not to take advantage of our social programs, kill our children or raid our wine cellars. Now they number twelve million – workers, families, communities. We can’t simply ship twelve million people away. That would be one of the biggest forced population movements in history. How would we justify it? By saying, “That’s the law”?

Sooner or later, we need to figure out how to integrate them into our society as fully equal participants. Our national leadership has been ignoring this need for decades. Hopefully, they will get their act together in the next few years. Hopefully, the passage of the Arizona law will convince them to.

But in the meantime, we need to figure out how to live in peace with our illegal neighbors. And we need to call on our state governments to treat them like the invaluable part of our society that they are.

So, back to Iowa.

Terry Branstad has clearly decided, along with most of the Republican Party leadership, that the image of the derelict, pious, haughty Obama administration suing poor, embattled Arizona over this law is too good not to take advantage of. I must say, I’m disappointed.

Should I vote for him again? His opponent’s reply wasn’t exactly inspiring:

"I think the point here is that Terry Branstad is out of touch. He's going to suggest that the local Iowa property taxpayers pick up the tab, which we're not going to do, which would only result in a property-tax increase."

Appeal to the pocketbook. Classic.

The case for democracy is getting weaker every day.

*Does a driver’s license count? There are five states where illegal aliens are allowed to have driver’s licenses: Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, Utah and Washington. Elsewhere, a driver’s license would presumably qualify as proof of legal residence. And of course, you should never drive without a license. But people still do walk places, you know.


  1. AMEN Joel..

    I voted for TB as well and am quite disappointed now..

  2. Thanks, Darren! I guess we'll see what comes. Have we met in real life? (My best guess is that you're Darren Y. from Dordt, but I'm not sure.)

  3. As usual (but not always), I agree with you. And, I'm horribly uninformed...