No matter what you think of the question of illegal immigration, there’s no denying that the Arizona immigration law will have a huge impact on legal resident Latino immigrants, naturalized citizens and even U.S. born Latino citizens (and, although the focus has been on Latinos, the same would go for Asian-Americans as well). In fact, U.S. born citizens and naturalized citizens are likely to feel the brunt of it most directly, because of two interlocking factors: (1) they possess the phenotype and accents that police will inevitably rely on in identifying illegal immigrants and (2) since they are actually citizens, and therefore secure in their presence here, they are not in the habit of carrying around papers that would prove their citizenship.
This is what defenders of the Arizona law, who say that it is just an attempt to deal with illegal immigration by enforcing the law do not seem to understand. The burden of this enforcement is not just going to fall on illegal immigrants. Besides the actual illegal immigrants whose apprehension it will facilitate, the design of the law means that the burden it creates will fall exclusively on Latinos who are lawfully present in the United States. This is exactly how the law differs from a law that, say, would require everyone to prove his or her lawful immigration status in certain contexts (e.g., as when we are required to show our SS card when we begin new employment).
And a recent episode confirms the fear that the law is designed specifically to maximize the zone in which these intrusive police interactions will occur. An email from Kris Korbach, a UMKC law professor who has been instrumental in shaping and defending the language of the Arizona law, confirms this. When lawmakers recently tinkered with the statute’s language, ostensibly to limit the circumstances under which law enforcement would be required to demand papers, he sent an email to Russell Pearce, an Arizona State Senator involved in drafting the new language, asking him to be sure to do it in ways that would continue to give police officers the ability to selectively target certain groups (e.g., those who have cars on blocks in the their front yards and those living with lots of people in a single apartment) for immigration inquiries by making violation of local ordinances one of the contexts in which police would be obligated to ask for proof of immigration status when they developed a reasonable suspicion that someone was here illegally:
When we drop out “lawful contact” and replace it with “a stop, detention, or rest, in the enforcement a violation of any title or section of the Arizona code” we need to add “or any county or municipal ordinance.” This will allow police to use violations of property codes (ie, cars on blocks in the yard) or rental codes (too many occupants of a rental accommodation) to initiate queries as well.
Korbach’s email suggests that the point of the law is not just to empower the police to question the immigration status of people they happen to encounter in the course of their normal law-enforcement duties. That would be intrusive enough from the perspective of lawfully resident Latinos who find themselves in a situation of always being on the hook to prove their status. As Korbach’s email makes clear, however, the goal is much more ambitious: to give local law enforcement the mandate — and then use the other provisions of the law to pressure them to make use of it — to affirmatively target certain populations for intrusive immigration inquiries.
Interestingly, the very same group of people promoting the Arizona immigration law are generally (1) eager to avoid government intrusions on their “liberty” (e.g., the Real ID Act) and (2), as Frank Rich pointed out in his column this past Sunday, not satisfied by President Obama’s own proof of his U.S. birth, notwithstanding his Hawaiian birth certificate. Why is that? Given the racially tinged rhetoric of the current immigration discussion in some quarters, you could forgive Latinos for thinking that this law might have to do with a bit more than just enforcing immigration laws and might, in fact, be tied up with larger racial and cultural anxieties animating certain segments of the American Right. (And, it should go without saying that if Obama’s birth certificate is not evidence for these people that he is a natural born US citizen, heaven help the rest of us.)
In light of all of this, this WSJ article, discussing the growing dissatisfaction with the GOP among conservative Latinos should come as no surprise. Here’s the essence of it (but go read the whole thing):
Conservative Hispanic voters, in particular, say they feel betrayed by Republican Party leaders who have supported the law. …. “When the Arizona law was passed, it quickly became the single most important issue to all Latinos in Arizona and nationwide,” said Matt Barreto, a political science professor at the University of Washington who studies Latino voting patterns. “Either party that pushes the issue too hard risks moving centrist voters in the other direction,” said Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. Massey Villarreal, a Houston businessman and past national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, an independent group with chapters nationwide, said, “It’s insulting to have Republican leaders across the country applauding this racist law. I’m sure this is going to hurt the Republican Party.”
This law is quickly becoming a litmus test for Latinos of all political stripes. So far, the GOP is failing it.