Latinos, Illegal Immigrants, and Anti-Immigrants
The damning DOJ report on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s discriminatory policing practices illustrates the tight connection between rhetoric targeting illegal immigration and discriminatory attitudes and practices aimed at Latinos in general. On the level of impact, this connection is so obvious that it barely needs stating. For starters, a great many Latino citizens have family ties to people who currently are (or in the not-too-distant past, were) undocumented. When I recently spoke to a group of Ivy League Latino undergraduates, I asked students to raise their hands if they had family members who were or had at one time been undocumented. Almost every hand went up.
In addition, even apart from family ties, there is no clear way to distinguish between undocumented immigrants and the broader Latino community. And so policies that purport to be aimed at combatting undocumented immigration by using police and other local service providers as the first line of attack inevitably end up relying on the kinds of racial and linguistic profiling that the DOJ has found to be pervasive in the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. This is one of the many reasons that Latinos of all political stripes — even those who have been vocal in their support of efforts to combat illegal immigration — are so unified in opposition to laws like those at work in Arizona and Alabama.
But there’s more going on here than disparate impact, and the DOJ report lays that bare as well. Bigots know that the lines between illegal immigrants, immigrants, and U.S. born Latinos is a blurry one. (See, for example, this NY Times story about US citizen Latinos detained, sometimes for as long as a year, on suspicion of being undocumented immigrants.) And so, by employing the supposedly race-neutral language of immigration law-enforcement, they feel empowered to act on their obvious animus towards Latinos of all legal statuses. For Arpaio and his department, reports of dark skinned people or of people speaking spanish were enough to merit police responses. And Latino drivers were almost 10 times more likely to be stopped by his department than non-Latinos. Many lawful US residents and citizens were then detained, often with no reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
This important report should send shivers down the spine of politicians who think they can support people like Arpaio and still hope to win the votes of any significant number of US citizen Latinos. The DOJ’s findings will make it all the harder for them to hide behind the rhetoric of illegality in order to play both sides of the race card.
UPDATE: To be clear, by “politicians” playing both sides, I include Democrats and Republicans. While only the Republican party has made racially tinged rhetoric about illegal immigration a centerpiece of its current political identity, the sort of “collateral damage” described in the NY Times article is a predictable consequence of the Obama administration’s morally (and, from a policy standpoint) dubious decision to make deportation the centerpiece of its own immigration policy. The administration appears to be counting on Latino votes on the ground that Republican immigration rhetoric is so hateful that Latinos will look the other way about a deportation policy that separates families and leads US citizens to be detained for looking too foreign.