Here in the U.S., there’s been a lot of buzz about a new immigration law passed in Arizona (including on meloukhia’s tumblr, where I first saw it). Their state legislature just passed a bill that “makes it a crime to lack proper immigration paperwork and requires police, if they suspect someone is in the country illegally, to determine his or her immigration status. It also bars people from soliciting work as day laborers.”
This is a big change from the current situation. Because immigration is a nationwide issue, the federal government makes the immigration laws. There is a federal Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services that administers applications for immigration status. There is a whole department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with quasi-police enforcement agents that put people in quasi-jail immigration detention facilities. It’s a whole federal system that runs parallel to the police and sheriffs who work for individual cities and counties.
For a long time, not only were local police not solely responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws, it was a longstanding rule that state and local police did not have the authority to enforce those laws. State and local police actively tried to distinguish themselves from immigration enforcement so that community residents who were immigrants would continue reporting crimes and helping the police with investigations. The split between responsibilities serves an important purpose in protecting overall public safety.
This is why it’s a big deal that this new law would require local police to determine the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally. Given the vague description of what would be an acceptable reason to suspect someone to be undocumented, it’s extremely likely this is going to translate to “check the papers of anyone who is Latina/o.” “A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.
Certainly a police officer fulfilling their requirements under this new law might in fact discover that someone is undocumented. But this law also gives every police officer carte blanche to insist on immigration paperwork from anyone they want – another tool for harassment and intimidation that will surely be deployed selectively. It warns not only undocumented people, but all immigrants and anyone who might appear to be or resemble an immigrant in any way – stay inside. Disappear. Vanish. We do not want you here and if we see you we will hassle and interrogate and judge you.
This law just used the official voice of the state to tell this whole group of people – most of them people of color, most of them legally present in the U.S. – that they are not wanted.
That message of not being wanted, that directive to become invisible and disappear, that clear desire that a whole group would just go away and stop being a bother. That’s the same feeling I get when reading articles like this one in the Fresno Bee bemoaning an effort to get local businesses to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. Just think of the economic effect on local retailers! They’ve been open for 20 years! How dare the PWDs file lawsuits instead of just asking the proprietor who I’m sure is very nice and would just love to help out voluntarily! The message is the same – having PWDs here is too expensive. Too much work. Something to be given only out of the generosity of those in charge, not demanded. If only the PWDs would just go away our local businesses would be fantastic!
In one instance, popular opinion and the business community are telling PWDs to go away or be invisible. In the other instance, the state government is telling immigrants to go away or be invisible. Both are premised on the acceptance of the idea that it’s ok to look at a minority group of people and reject them, as a group. That’s why I reacted negatively to both those news articles – it is not ok to oppress people as a group. If it’s ok to treat immigrants that way in Arizona, that legitimizes treating PWD that way in Fresno. And this law is such a big step in the wrong direction that it makes me worried about similar erosions for other groups – including PWDs.