Look, it’s an illegal, right?

Sometime last week I was asked by a friend my opinion concerning the new law in Arizona concerning illegal immigrants. All I could really say then and now is basically that if it is tied to “reasonable suspicion” then it is inherently immoral. Not because of the principal of reasonable suspicion but because it is supposedly tied to the mere “look” of a person in addition to it covering an issue that is clearly federal in nature.

The following opinion piece from the LA Times peaked my interest so I will piggy back on what they are stating:

Look, it’s an illegal, right?

Arizona’s anti-immigration law looks like it will take racial profiling to work.

If Arizona’s Republican legislators weren’t so dumb, they’d be dangerous. Or maybe they’re dangerous because they’re dumb.

Either way, once they stop celebrating the passage of what should be dubbed the “We really, really, really don’t like illegal aliens” bill, they’re going to have to figure out how law enforcement is supposed to identify the culprits. [This should be the first consideration with any legislation. How do you propose to enforce a law with in the confines of the Constitution?]

It’s always fun to read the text of silly legislation. Turn to Section 2, Paragraph B, which states: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.”

Did you catch the part about “reasonable suspicion”? How is a cop going to know by sight who is or isn’t legal? What about a person will elicit suspicion? [Now, not only did I catch the part about reasonable suspicion, I also caught the part about attempting to determine the status of the person. And my questions to this are similar to what the author is expressing here. But I add, where is the legal precedent for states doing this? Furthermore, what is the procedure for determining legal status and is such a person held, etc.?]

Opponents of the measure argue that the open-ended nature of “reasonable suspicion” will lead to widespread racial profiling of all Latinos. They’re probably overstating their case. [If you already sympathize with this sentiment, then close your jaw and consider the next statement.]

Something tells me someone who looks like, say, blond Mexican pop singer Paulina Rubio won’t be stopped. [Here is the true point of the matter. The author elaborates further.]

The truth is that Mexicans are hard to racially profile. [All people from Latin American countries are hard to profile.] Five hundred years of racial mixture has given many Mexican families a decidedly kaleidoscopic racial quality. To wit: Not everyone with Mexican ancestry shares the same skin color.

The law’s proponents say that it’s not about race anyway, it’s about legality, but that isn’t entirely true either. Presumably, certain physiognomic features will stand out. And presumably so will class signifiers and certain ethno-cultural accoutrements.

We can safely assume that most illegal immigrants in Arizona are of humble origins, right? So, should the police “reasonably suspect” people with darker faces? What about fair-skinned Mexicans? Are work boots or jeans a dead giveaway? Would someone draw more suspicion driving a truck or an Audi? Do those “Yo heart Jalisco” bumpers scream “illegal alien”?

And what about accents? Is there a marked difference between the accents of a legal and an illegal immigrant? [This is a good point and spot on because many years ago my dad, who is a former US Customs agent, was sent to the Laredo border for this very reason. To spot the accents of those who were NOT Mexican. South American immigrants often tried to claim Mexican citizenship back in the 1970s, when many crossed the border to work at factories in the area.] Should a legal immigrant refrain from blasting ranchera music from his Toyota for fear of being “reasonably suspicious”? It’s easy to imagine this law creating a climate in which both foreign- and native-born legal residents try to avoid being targeted by suppressing any outward signs of ethnicity. [This whole section is on point.]

Last Wednesday, Joe Arpaio, the cartoon-like sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County — he was wearing a gold tie tack depicting a semiautomatic pistol — assured a CNN anchor that he and his deputies “know the criteria when we come across people who may be here illegally in the country.”

I’d love to see the criteria. [Yeah, me too.] Maybe he could set up a hotline, so everyone can be on the lookout for real illegals.

I’m not saying the new law won’t help catch and deport some illegal immigrants. But at the very least, the “reasonable suspicion” clause suggests that the process will be hit or miss, and that plenty of legal residents could be wrongly suspected and generally harassed. [Exactly.]

Proponents might say that that’s a reasonable risk to run, but I’m pretty certain that most of them won’t be subjected to the indignities of having their right to be in this country questioned.

It also puts law enforcement in the awkward position that Southern train conductors once faced, fretting over whom they could risk offending. Booker T. Washington writes about the dilemma in his 1901 autobiography. He describes a conductor inspecting a light-skinned passenger seated in the “colored” compartment. The official examines the man’s eyes, nose and hands. If the rider is black, he doesn’t want to send him into the white coach. If he is white, he doesn’t want to insult him by asking his race. To solve his quandary, the conductor bends over to glance at the man’s feet. At last he is convinced the passenger is seated among his own kind.

I guess you could say that Arizona has sent its state law enforcement officers down the road to becoming America’s latest foot soldiers. In the process, they’ve also made their state a little bit more like that segregated train car Washington once rode in.

The controversy of this new law circles around the concept of reasonable suspicion. How does someone determine, by looking at a person, whether you can reasonable suspect that the person is illegal? As the author above points out, this is very difficult to do with Mexicans – for all Latinos for that matter. Not to mention people of all origin. Can you pick out the difference between a Canadian and someone from Buffalo, NY? I worked along side a Canadian national and had no clue until he mentioned it in conversation once showing me his “green card” to boot.

Ultimately, the matter boils down to the issue of the dignity of the human person. This is why many bishops have expressed disdain and concern over this bill. The Church will always try to remind secular governments that there is a responsibility to protect human dignity while protecting government’s own right to legislate (CCC 1929-1938).


Let me give you a personal take on this. If my father and I were to walk down the street together you would note that our complexions do not match. I am white and he is clearly “Hispanic” or at the very least not “Anglo.” Moreover, once he opens his mouth the Spanish accent would kick in and if you add all of that to the dark hair and thick mustache well, you might just wonder his status. What a person improperly applying this type of legislation may not realize is that my father is Puerto Rican (a US citizen from birth), a Vietnam vet, a former US Customs agent and former Sky Marshall. He, like many other US Americans of Hispanic decent, have given much in service to this country. How does he go about proving his citizenship and birth when, as a citizen, he is not required by law to carry that type of documentation?

If you are thinking that this is unlikely to occur, I offer up, again, some personal anecdotes:

  1. Back in the 1980s my father was working undercover on a narcotics investigation in the Tampa/Clearwater area. Coming home one evening, he was stopped by some Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputies, beaten and detained. The reason. They looked at him and had a reason to suspect that he was trafficking. Of course my father did not have any identification affirming his true identify but he did provide the deputies with the contact information of his captain. It was not until my father contacted the captain that he was released an vindicated.
  2. On a trip to Miami (I was in the car this time), my father was pulled over by a Border Patrol agent (yes they drive around South Florida – I was surprised too) for no reason other than to check his status. Well, my father tore him a new one and told him to arrest him if he had proof that he was illegal. The agent looked at my mother (who looks white) and myself and, in embarrassment, apologized and let us go.
  3. During my younger, crazy days, I was pulled over because of some kind of suspicious activity complaint. Well, I got out of the car spoke to the officers and went back without being searched. At that moment my vehicle was loaded with 5 others: 4 Hispanics and 1 African American. Needless to say that all were search except me and I spoke to the officers twice.

So anyway, this is my take. Let the Feds do what the Feds are supposed to do and be mindful that all legislation must defend the dignity of the human person, which does not mean that any country should have wide-open borders. It just means that we need to respect all people, even those who are illegally in this country but especially those who are here legally.


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