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by Clarence Page
Congratulations, Arizona. If your new "reasonable suspicion" immigration ID-check law was intended to get Washington's attention, it has succeeded. It also has raised my reasonable suspicion that the immigration debate has been hijacked by wingnuts.
This is the goofiest legislation since the Arizona House days earlier voted to require all presidential candidates to provide their birth certificates before they can have access to the Arizona ballot. This thoroughly useless legislation obviously sprang out of the goofy "birther" movement, a persistent cult of moon dancers who refuse to acknowledge the validity of Barack Obama's birth certificate. What can you do with people who won't believe the documents of a documented worker?
Now Arizona's usually sensible Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has signed SB 1070. The new law not only allows but actually requires police to ask individuals for proof of their citizenship based on nothing more than "reasonable suspicion" that they might be illegal immigrants. Heaven knows how many unreasonable acts have been committed in the name of "reasonable suspicion."
The law requires legal immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times. That's so they can produce them on demand in the way that freed slaves were required before the Civil War. And here I thought those days were over. Silly me.
Of course, what about American citizens who happen to look like what other people think an illegal immigrant looks? They'd better have some ID handy, too, or their next trip to the grocery could be interrupted by an unnecessary trip to some holding cell.
SB 1070 is worse than useless. It is a hazard. It actually endangers public safety, as some police officials have pointed out, by poisoning police relations with minority communities. It discourages victims, witnesses and informants from coming forward to provide the help with which most crimes are solved.
Worse, it puts Arizona in a class with apartheid South Africa in subjecting people to ID checks based on their appearance.
I had a taste of what that was like in the 1970s as a black American reporter during South Africa's apartheid regime. The white-minority government's "influx control" policy required all black South Africans to carry a photo-ID "passbook" in urban areas to prevent a flood of black Africans from flooding in to areas where the jobs were. Sounds familiar?
My American passport came in handy on a Johannesburg street when an Afrikaner police officer demanded what sounded like "Vars you pahz?" Where's your passport? I was strolling-while-black. He didn't need any more "reasonable suspicion" than that.
Is South Africa's pass coming to Arizona today? Even Brewer admitted in a news conference that she doesn't know what an illegal immigrant "looks like." Yet since the overwhelming majority of Arizona's legal and illegal immigrants happen to be Hispanic, SB 1070 sounds very much like a breathtakingly bold attempt not only to legalize but to force ethnic profiling by police. Anyone who denies that, as Brewer does, either does not know the definition of profiling or desperately wishes not to know.
But I congratulate the governor and her fellow state lawmakers for this much: They've brought Washington's overdue attention to some very serious immigration issues, including their state's porous border with Mexico. Unfortunately, they've chosen to make their point with all the subtlety of a roadside bomb.
Now McCain, in a tight primary fight against conservative former congressman J.D. Hayworth, is calling for more troops on the border. He had it right the first time.
Now reasonable voices on both sides are calling once again for comprehensive immigration reform. That means not only tougher sanctions against employers, but also better enforcement of the sanctions we already have. We have the capabilities, for example, to build a national computerized instant-check enforcement system. Why don't we have it?
But comprehensive reform also needs to include incentives for illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, register themselves, go through background checks, pay whatever taxes they owe, learn English and get in line behind applicants already on a pathway to citizenship.
That's not "amnesty." It's a reasonable alternative to unreasonable suspicions.
Arizona's Illegal Immigration Catch