By Mario Carter
Elm Columnist

Does the state of Arizona actually care about its perception in the eyes of the rest of the nation? If it wasn’t bad enough that Arizonians voted against establishing a Martin Luther King Day and then reversed their opposition only after the NFL decided to move the Superbowl from Tempe to Pasadena, now the Copper State has decided to stake its claim in becoming the anti-immigrant capital of America.

The governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, has just ratified the comically named “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act.” The legislation both classifies the lack of proper immigration papers as a misdemeanor and requires police officers to determine a person’s immigration status if they have “reasonable suspicion.” Predictably, the supporters of the bill have defended the legislation as a panacea to stopping the flow of illegal narcotics and crime that has seeped across the state line from Mexican drug lords while also rejecting the notion that it will lead to rampant discrimination. But regardless of what arguments the proponents use to justify the necessity of this bill, the real intentions are as clear as the sun rising over the Grand Canyon.

At its heart, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act,” or, as it should be called, the “Get the Mexicans Out of Here Act,” is nothing more than a descendant of the insidiously racist laws that were enacted generations ago. The only difference is that in this particular case Hispanics will be the intended target. And make no mistake about it, many Hispanics regardless of whether they just illegally crossed the border five minutes ago or if they’ve spent their entire lives in Arizona as a legal citizen, are going to be put under a cloud of “reasonable suspicion.”

Of course, even if we did take the supporters of the proposed legislation at their word that the bill would fairly persecute people solely on their ethnic background, just how are police officers, many of them untrained in dealing with immigration issues, supposed to distinguish between a legal resident and an illegal immigrant? And the claim that this bill will only be used to combat the violence that has spread across the borders of Arizona is absurd. Now, I may be a simple country boy from a little ole farm in Washington, D.C. but I do know one thing: regardless of what state a murder takes place in, it’s a murder.

For years, the right wing has viciously exploited the issue of illegal immigration, and the emerging violence that has stretched over the border has given them the perfect opportunity to advance their extremist agenda. Not only is this bill guaranteed to be ineffective, it will add to the burgeoning deficit that the citizens of Arizona are already living under.

Harassing brown skinned people is recognizably an untenable solution. Illegal immigrants from Mexico will still continue to cross the border in wide swaths and now, not only will they continue to enter illegally, they will become more hesitant in reporting crimes because they will fear the possibility of being deported. Also, cities and towns will be up to their necks in lawsuits because Hispanic citizens will rightly be suing them when their civil rights are being violated by brutes with badges. I can very easily imagine a couple of trigger happy keystone kops (with barely concealed glee) just waiting for the opportunity to brandish their Smith & Wesson on a group of Hispanics wearing disheveled clothes, thinking that they must have illegally crossed the border from Tijuana only to discover that they are returning from a softball game.

Of course, my attack of this hideously racist law does not mean that I am comfortable with illegal immigrants crossing this country’s borders. If we do not restrict who comes across our borders, there are bound to be illegal immigrants who will bring violence and terror to America’s streets and neighborhoods. And of course, not every single police officer will abuse this law. Police officers are instrumental in protecting our neighborhoods and blocks.

But if we are ever going to solve the very real problem of illegal immigration, then there will need to be legitimate solutions proposed. Instead of placing the bull’s eye on people who are simply trying to feed their families, why not hone that hostility over the country’s broker borders on the employers who are knowingly hiring and taking advantage of them? Using Gestapo-like tactics only serves to create hazardous divisions.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry so much. Brewer said that she would not tolerate racial discrimination, and I’m sure that that should provide comfort to Arizona’s Hispanic population.

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