“There’s never been a paper bag for drugs.”
If there was ever a paper bag for immigration, Arizona’s just ripped it away. The clip up there is of “The Wire”‘s Major Bunny Colvin, explaining the unspoken compromise between police charged with enforcing laws against public consumption of alcohol, and locals who want to sit outside drinking a beer. The paper bag allows otherwise law-abiding citizens to enjoy a drink in the fresh air, and frees up the police to focus on more serious crime (“If they arrested every dude out there for tipping back a High Life there’d be no other time for any other kind of police work”). A similar compromise for drug-users doesn’t exist, Colvin says.
I was reminded of this scene after Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a set of stringent new restrictions on illegal immigration. The law has set off an outcry here in the States, and it’s not too hard to see why. It requires police to stop people they suspect of being illegal immigrants and demand proof that they are authorised to be in the country. Immigrants must carry around proof of their legal status at all times, and the mere act of being an illegal immigrant in Arizona is now a crime.
The problem is, of course, that it’s hard to have a reasonable suspicion that someone is an illegal immigrant, because, well, in the words of Governor Brewer: “I do not know what an illegal immigrant looks like.” Opponents of the law think it will lead to widespread profiling of Hispanics, since most illegal immigrants are Hispanic. And even though the law forbids this kind of racial profiling, it offers no guidance as to how a police officer is meant to reasonably suspect someone of being an illegal immigrant. Just like police departments that don’t racially profile but nonetheless coincidentally end up harassing large numbers of law-abiding African-Americans, this legislation seems likely to lead to widespread demands of any Hispanic-looking person in Arizona that they show their papers.
In practice, this will make Hispanics more mistrustful of police, and discourage them from reporting crimes and co-operating with investigations. But if this were all it would do, at least Arizona would reach some kind of workable, albeit horrible, compromise. But one of the more absurd aspects of the law is that it permits individual citizens to sue police departments that aren’t doing enough to combat illegal immigration. Not only will police have to try to determine who is an illegal immigrant merely by sight, they will have to demand of these people proof of legal status, and, to avoid costly lawsuits, they will have to do so to the satisfaction of every resident of Arizona. Continue reading