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Show Me Your Papers

The passage of a new law in Arizona requiring local law enforcement officers to act against people who do not have documentation showing they are in the USofA legally has created a tremendous firestorm.  Protests were swift and conferences in the state normally known for plenty of sunshine were abruptly cancelled.  Candidates in other states either swiftly praised or condemned the action.  For all the noise, however, if we think this through a bit this could wind up being the catalyst for actually doing something about an issue that has been allowed to fester for a generation, targeting the most vulnerable among us, separating families, and generally creating havoc at the fringes of our otherwise “civilized” nation.  That could be a good thing.

The law in question is nothing less than a state’s attempt to get a handle on a problem that they simple cannot, so it has to be seen as an act of desperation.  It’s not all bad, at least in the sense that it gives local law enforcement new tools to go after the coyotes who smuggle people across the desert and gives jurisdiction beyond the ICE-men who have had a very free hand to act as they see fit without any local police observation or control.

The divisive parts are the elaborate provisions that literally force local law enforcement to arrest anyone that they have “reasonable suspicion” is in this nation illegally – and if they don’t act, there is even a new mechanism to report them to a local judge for mandatory disciplinary action.  It’s a bold statement of force by the state.

This drastic action prompted a dramatic protest from an usual corner, the Arizona Republic – a newspaper that cannot be considered “liberal”.  In big headlines the Sunday paper ran a front-page editorial entitled “Stop failing Arizona, Start fixing Immigration”.  It blasted politicians of both parties for “pandering to fear” and grandstanding.  An excerpt:

Despite the turmoil and passion surrounding this issue, there is a broad consensus that immigration is a federal responsibility and it demands federal action. State laws cannot fix it.

There is also agreement that Arizona suffers disproportionately because of federal border policies, as was seen Friday when a Pinal County sheriff’s deputy was ambushed and shot by suspected drug smugglers.

Arizona can no longer afford to tolerate elected officials who show so little interest in solving one of the state’s most pressing issues. We need leaders who will push to enact comprehensive reform. We need Arizona leadership – as a delegation all working together -sponsoring and spearheading federal legislation to fix immigration.

Reform must secure the border so that the people entering this country are doing so legally and we know who they are. It must eliminate the access to jobs that migrants are willing to risk their lives to reach. It must include an efficient system to verify worker eligibility and tough sanctions for employers who hire the undocumented.

It must provide a path to legalization that has to be earned by the current undocumented population. If they choose not to earn it, they choose not to be citizens and live in this country.

I do not agree completely with everything they say in this editorial, but I have to applaud that they said it.  We have gone on for too long haphazardly and unevenly enforcing laws in ways that create tremendous hardship for people who are doing nothing more than trying to make a living.  If all this noise does nothing more than  force some reasonable solutions, including timely legal paths to citizenship, it could wind up being a good thing.

But there’s a darker side as this whole issue plays out, the process of defining what side our people, our politicians, and our laws stand on.  Recently, Tom Emmer, the now endorsed Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota, called the law, “A wonderful first step“.  We can now count him among those politicians who, in the words of a solidly Republican newspaper, “pander to fear” – we know just what he’s made of.

More interesting, the law is probably unenforceable without some kind of national identification card or other system that clearly denotes who is here legally and who is not.  I carry no papers on me to prove my status – I have only my pale skin, which should not protect me in a state with a substantial number of Canadian and European immigrants.  Is a national ID system what the supporters of this law really want?  I believe we should ask that of any candidate who wants to make this some kind of priority.

As the lines are drawn, this law provides very little room for any dissent, which will certainly prove to be its weakness.  Local law enforcement officers are required to act, meaning that they cannot ignore a challenge.  This can empower an usual and powerful protest.

When the Nazis stormed Denmark, they quickly required all Jews to wear the same yellow Star of David patch as Germany.  The next day, King Christian X of Denmark made a point of being seen sporting the Star, and soon the entire nation wore the emblem proudly.  There was little the Nazis could do.  Similarly, anyone pulled over for a minor infraction of any law in Arizona can proclaim that they do not, as I do not now, have on them any proof that they are in this nation legally.  My read of this law would require this person to be arrested under “reasonable suspicion”.  A few thousand people doing this would clog the normal operation of the entire justice system of the state and make everything come to a halt.

A good way to celebrate Cinco do Mayo might well be to do little more than carry a sign saying, “I am an illegal alien” just to see what that kind of free speech forces the local officers to do under the law.  It seems “reasonably suspicious” to me.

The new law in Arizona has been blasted by people with a far stronger interest in it than I have, but we all are about to have our hands forced as the reaction both for and against this law burns across the nation.  Knowing where we all stand may actually be a good thing in the end, if we seize the moment and take action.

11 thoughts on “Show Me Your Papers

  1. You make some thought provoking suggestions here. I am watching the issue evolve with great interest. I hope this will end up being a positive turning point for our nation. We badly need fewer polarizing issues.

  2. This really is a can of worms, isn’t it? I can see why we’ve all looked the other way for so long, and I can also see why Arizona got desperate. I’m not sure that the politicians deserved what they got from the newspaper, because they were trying to do something. We can’t just let people in willy-nilly. But if they really are making cops enforce what the federal government can’t it really is a bad idea all around.

    I don’t know what to think about this issue. I can see a lot of sides, all with a good point.

  3. I think you both hit the nail on the head – this is not a simple issue by any stretch. The real problem here is that we’ve let it go for so long – ad the reason we could do that is that the burden has always fallen most heavily on people at the very margins of our society. At some point we just can’t let that keep happening, no matter how much we like to ignore “someone else’s problems”.

    I’m generally going to come down on the side of more open borders, but I understand that there are big implications for that. What I’m sure of is that uneven and haphazard enforcement by ICE is not a good thing for anyone – and I don’t necessarily blame ICE for being haphazard because I know they don’t have anywhere near the resources necessary to do what they are supposed to do in the first place.

    Blame? Lots to go around. Good ideas? Many of those, too. Implications? Vast. Just about the hardest topic we have on our hands, actually. I’m glad the Arizona Republic went after the politicos for their big show of force because that seems like the next step to getting something reasonable to happen. Let’s hope it does get reasonable somewhere in here.

  4. I love your idea to wear a sign on Cinco de Mayo that says “I’m an illegal alien.” What a great tactic for civil disobedience! I’m actually seriously considering it even though we’re not supposed to do “politicking” at our workplace. Now might be a good time for me to do a rewatching of “A Day without a Mexican.” In my dept, if we Latinos were not here, nothing would get done!

  5. This may as well be the UK the situation is identical. We too have gone beyond a ertain point missing an opportunity to overhaul and anntiquated and in many ways unfair entry system.
    One such opportunity ws Gordon Browns recent off air gaff where he privately labelled a local woman as biggotted his mic had been left on and his subsequent “private remarks” broadcast. It is a subject that we are all afraid to discuss it is the elephant in the room and it’s getting larger and larger. So we are left with the jouranlses of tabloid papaers to fan the flames of fear – mostly unwarrented. What concerns me far more is the state we find ourselves in regarding known ilegals who are also crimminals whoafter serving their sentence in the UK somehow manage to appeal and win leave to remain in this country. We have had several cases in the UK – that to me seems completley insane.

  6. Thank you, Gwei – this is a global phenom. I have to wonder how other places are dealing with migration and residency. I saw third generation Turks in Germany who had no hope of ever attaining citizenship, never capable of being more than “guest workers”, and I had to wonder what that means to a community, a nation, and a planet.

    We should talk more about our relative situations and what we are all seeing around us because it seems that we are far from alone in not being able to talk this through. Understanding others’ situations may help us put a little perspective on our own.

    Thank you again, I’d like to hear a lot more!

  7. Typical politics. Let’s do as much as humanly possible to push off the big, unpopular decisions onto the next generation of politicians.

    I’m really not a fan of the specific legislation passed in Arizona but I can empathize with why they did it. Their state needs help from the federal government, and a law such as this serves as a catalyst to bring the issue into national focus. It’s hard to imagine that the law will end up surviving all these court challenges.

    Potential human rights issues aside, in the end, is this a crafty move on Arizona’s part to bring swifter action to immigration reform?

  8. With regard to papers, please remember the distinction between licenses and identification cards. It’s an important distinction, one which, before I learned it, had me squarely against the law. I am now I’m indifferent to it.
    As my uncle, a former NY state trooper, explained to me, if you’re not driving, or doing some other act that requires a license, the officer has no inherent reason to ask for any sort of ID. The officer has no reason to stop you while you’re driving unless you are visibly in violation of some law. Likewise, an officer can’t accost you if you’re simply walking along – though an officer certainly has a right to simply make small talk with any passing individual.
    In short, act like you belong, like the officer is just another person doing her/his job, and they will have no reason to question your citizenship.
    It’s also my understanding, that avoiding this issue merely requires you to declare that you are a citizen. Asking for documentation to disprove that statement then becomes a matter that runs into reasonable search and seizure, self-incriminization, and innocent before proven guilty issues. For example, they can’t compel you to produce a birth certificate because it’s technically a matter of public record already – if you’ve claimed to be a citizen. If you lie about being a citizen, then you run afoul of other laws already on the books.
    Asking for some form of ID is a convenience for the police/gov’t, but we citizens still maintain the right to have no papers.

  9. Ted:

    Thanks so much – I now understand that a distinction between residents and not is probably never going to implemented in a way that passes constitutional tests, at least not on a consistent basis, for random people in the street.

    Josh: Yes, it’s the way so many things have gone, pass it off to the next generation. Problem is, I think the next generation is more or less here now. Ouch!

  10. Pingback: Cinco de Mayo « Barataria – the work of Erik Hare

  11. Pingback: The Only Issue that Counts | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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