Arizona Immigration Law Sparks Racial Profiling Fears

Arizona Immigration Law Sparks Racial Profiling Fears

The Supreme Court's decision this week to uphold Arizona's immigration law has led some legal groups to warn the decision could result in racial profiling. The law allows police to stop and check the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, has said, "The court has opened the door for us to proceed now with the rest of our constitutional claims. This type of law is almost impossible to enforce in a racially neutral way without leading to civil rights violations against people of color."

Groups against the law fear that police will over-scrutinize Hispanics, and be forced to try and judge people according to racial characteristics, including the color of their skin and their accent.

Jen Brewer, Arizona's governor and the main promoter of the law in that state, said after the Supreme Court ruling that she was confident police officers would implement the law "efficiently, effectively and in harmony with the constitution…civil rights will be protected and racial profiling will not be tolerated."

Earlier this month Brewer distributed training videos for officers on how to spot undocumented immigrants. Factors that constitute "reasonable suspicion" over whether someone is in the country illegally were included in the video, and suggested features such as language, demeanor and foreign-vehicle registration were reasonable.

Thomas A. Saenz, general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has told The New York Times, "We feel strongly this law should not be implemented. The irreparable harms are just too severe."

As enforcement of the so-called "show me your papers" provision is set to commence, some local authorities have worried implementation could be a difficult task.

"They are focusing on one particular group of people, Hispanics, and here along the border…it can be pretty challenging to determine who's here legally and who isn't," said the sheriff of Santa Cruz County, Antonio Estrada.

There are approximately 2 million Hispanics in Arizona, equating to nearly a third of the state's 6.5 million population. According to government figures, there were an estimated 360,000 unauthorized immigrants in Arizona as of January 2011.

Another core concern from skeptics of the new law is the fear other states with similar immigration laws could see the Supreme Court's ruling as a door opening to further strengthen their own provisions against illegal immigrants. Such states include Alabama, Georgia, Utah, Indiana and South Carolina.

One part of South Carolina's immigration law makes it a felony for anyone to knowingly transport an illegal immigrant. That provision is currently blocked in the state, but Attorney General Alan Wilson has said he plans to ask the Court of Appeal to permit that provision take effect, according to Reuters.

In Alabama a provision has been blocked which seeks to require schools to determine each student's immigration status. However, supporters of that law are currently seeking to have the provision upheld. Alabama's Governor, Robert Bentley, has said, "The people of Alabama want a strong anti-illegal immigration law. I will keep my commitment to uphold and enforce Alabama's law."

Although the "show me your papers" provision could be enforced from July, some experts believe its effects may not be significant and will have less impact than most believe due to the lack of cooperation between the Arizona police and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents (ICE). Grant Woods, a former Arizona Attorney General, said earlier this week that "the impact (of the law) in Arizona in the short term is pretty insignificant, because it's pretty clear that the ICE isn't going to respond to these calls…So, at least in the short term, I don't think anything's going to change."


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