Meghan McCain, Racial Profiling, And Arizona's New Immigration Law


A new law allowing Arizona police to check the documentation of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant has raised fears of racial profiling. But Meghan McCain cautions against an “extreme” reaction.

The new law, which will go into effect this summer unless legal challenges block it, is the strictest in the country: if “reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an alien, who is unlawfully present in the United States,” the law allows police to stop that person and check his or her immigration papers. Not having such papers is now a state crime. Enthusiasm for the law was apparently stoked by the killing of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, possibly by an illegal immigrant.

According to Randal Archibold of the Times, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer pushed for language in the bill that barred racial profiling, but many fear that the new law will make it inevitable. Underscoring this point are the words of one of its supporters, Arizona resident Ron White. Interviewed by Archibold, White accuses illegal immigrants of “congregating on the streets, breaking into homes in his neighborhood, draining tax dollars and taking jobs from Americans.” He also says “I sure hope [the law] does have an effect. I wouldn’t want to show proof of citizenship, but I also don’t feel it is racial profiling. You are going to look different if you are an alien, and cops know.”

The fact that White assumes documentation requirements will not apply to him is troubling in itself. More so: the idea that “cops know” who is likely to be “an alien.” While police may be able to identify certain behavioral traits, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how they might enforce the law without targeting the Latino community, and without creating a two-tiered system in Arizona where Latinos must carry papers and fear being hassled by the cops, while white residents go scot-free. In fact, a Democrat who has worked with Brewer says the Governor may have already accepted this: “I think what led her to this decision on the immigration bill was political, cold calculation. She felt the Hispanic community would not matter.”

Meghan McCain, however, says we shouldn’t judge Arizona too harshly. She says she’s against the new law, but that “the national media have done a poor job articulating the real problems with illegal immigration in Arizona.” Possibly influenced by her father’s support of the bill, and his tense re-election fight, she continues,

And when a flawed law is magnified through the prism of extreme partisan politics, it only looks worse. With President Obama calling the law “misguided” and the mainstream media painting Arizona out to be a rogue state, all it does is make people go to greater lengths to defend their position. I think unless you are from a border state and have actually seen firsthand the effects illegal immigrants have on your community, I don’t think you can truly appreciate the complexities of the problem and how it should be litigated.

This last is a little unfair — should all those who live in non-“border states” be excluded from the conversation about immigration? First of all, there are many immigrants, documented and undocumented, in other states who might like to have a say. And second, simply being from a border state doesn’t necessarily make you an expert on immigration policy — especially because you can’t tell an illegal immigrant by looking, and it’s thus rather difficult to accurately “see firsthand,” at least as a layperson, the effects of illegal immigration. The supposed illegal immigrants White saw “congregating on the street” may not have been illegal at all, and it’s debatable whether their congregation did him any harm.

One thing you do see as a resident of a border state (for what it’s worth, I grew up in one) is a lot of racism and xenophobia against immigrants, legal or not. You also see deep contradictions: a feeling that undocumented workers are “taking jobs,” coupled with a desire for labor so cheap that documented workers often won’t or can’t (because of American labor laws) perform it. This demand is one of the “real problems with illegal immigration.” The difficulty of legal immigration may be another. Says Angelica Salas (quoted in the Christian Science Monitor), director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, “Without legal channels for entry into the US, without reform, those who control the border are violent criminals, and the victims are innocent people, including the undocumented, who are raped, injured, and killed.” But the most overarching problem may be the demonization of illegal immigrants themselves without an understanding of the economic and political forces that drive them out of their home countries and cause them to remain undocumented here. To say that Arizona citizens are being unfairly and summarily judged may be getting it backwards.

Unexpected Governor Takes An Unwavering Course [NYT]
Growing Split In Arizona Over Immigration [NYT]
Hate The Law, Not Arizonans [Daily Beast]
Robert Krentz Killing Stokes Fears Of Rampant Illegal Immigration [Christian Science Monitor]
Come Back, John McCain [NYT]

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