Ari­zona law is cre­at­ing born sus­pects

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

I’m thank­ful that the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice filed suit against Ari­zona’s im­mi­gra­tion law be­cause it in­ter­feres with the fed­eral govern­ment’s con­sti­tu­tional author­ity to set and en­force im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy. By declar­ing “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion” to be grounds for de­tain­ment, such laws not only over­step their bound­ary but they also en­sure that peo­ple of a cer­tain eth­nic­ity are born a sus­pect.

As a re­sult of Jim Crow and be­ing born sus­pects, African Amer­i­cans are all too fa­mil­iar with the con­se­quences of “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion.”

My fa­ther and those of his gen­er­a­tion dealt with the ob­sti­nacy of an elected class de­ter­mined to keep dis­crim­i­na­tion en­shrined in statute. Sadly, with the pas­sage of this anti-Fourth Amend­ment leg­is­la­tion in Ari­zona, it ap­pears a sim­i­lar elected class is de­ter­mined to pass that ex­pe­ri­ence on to a new gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans. Af­ter decades of progress, it is painful to see a state put dis­crim­i­na­tion back into place with a new twist on old laws — ush­er­ing us into the “José Crow” era.

Amer­i­cans whose fam­i­lies have lived in Ari­zona for gen­er­a­tions will have their cit­i­zen­ship ques­tioned based on their ‘rea­son­ably sus­pi­cious’ phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance.

Mas­querad­ing as a fix to our bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, Ari­zona’s law, which goes into ef­fect Thurs­day, sac­ri­fices the lib­er­ties we have worked so hard to gain and pro­tect. Un­der Ari­zona’s strin­gent anti-im­mi­grant law, a per­son’s eth­nic­ity and cul­ture make him or her “rea­son­ably sus­pi­cious,” thereby erod­ing the con­sti­tu­tional rights of cer­tain U.S. cit­i­zens and le­gal res­i­dents.

Amer­i­cans whose fam­i­lies have lived in Ari­zona for gen­er­a­tions will have their cit­i­zen­ship ques­tioned based on their “rea­son­ably sus­pi­cious” phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance. Po­lice will be taken away from their pri­mary role of fight­ing crime as they are forced to spend more time in­quir­ing about an in­di­vid­ual’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

Pro­fil­ing places an un­nec­es­sary wedge be­tween law en­force­ment and com­mu­ni­ties. Plac­ing “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion” into statute does noth­ing to bridge that trust gap and fos­ter mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships be­tween peace of­fi­cers and the com­mu­ni­ties they pro­tect.

While Amer­i­cans are un­der­stand­ably frus­trated with our nation’s bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, the mis­guided, un­con­sti­tu­tional ap­proach taken by Ari­zona is not the an­swer.

Al­though I’m hope­ful that this law­suit will dis­suade other states from mir­ror­ing Ari­zona’s ill-ad­vised and un­con­sti­tu­tional law, the law­suit is only the first step. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama re­cently de­clared that the fed­eral govern­ment “can­not kick the can down the road” and must fi­nally solve our nation’s bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

That bro­ken sys­tem in our coun­try re­sults in the con­flict­ing mes­sage of “keep out” and “help wanted.” It pits work­ers against each other, re­wards bad-ac­tor em­ploy­ers, puts hon­est busi­nesses at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage and leaves bil­lions in un­col­lected taxes.

If done cor­rectly, com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form at the fed­eral level can cre­ate a stronger econ­omy for na­tive born cit­i­zens and im­mi­grants alike. Stud­ies have found that a le­gal­iza­tion pro­gram would gen­er­ate $4.5 bil­lion to $5.4 bil­lion in ad­di­tional net tax rev­enue in the first three years. The in­creased con­sumer spend­ing from com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form would be high enough to sup­port 750,000 to 900,000 new jobs. Even the con­ser­va­tive Cato In­sti­tute noted that “le­gal­iza­tion of low-skilled im­mi­grant work­ers would yield sig­nif­i­cant in­come gains for Amer­i­can work­ers and house­holds.”

From a moral stand­point, com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form would bring hard-work­ing peo­ple out of the shad­ows — giv­ing peo­ple a shot at the Amer­i­can dream and the op­por­tu­nity to build a bet­ter life for their chil­dren.

In­stead of let­ting Repub­li­cans who seek short-term po­lit­i­cal gain de­velop di­vi­sive leg­is­la­tion, we must come up with a work­able so­lu­tion that doesn’t defy the val­ues of our so­ci­ety. The sad, sorry legacy of Jim Crow laws, which were meant to di­vide and sup­press a group of peo­ple, must not be al­lowed to resur­face. Our coun­try must not be­come a so­ci­ety where Amer­i­cans, based on a “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion,” will have to prove they have a law­ful right to be here. No Amer­i­can should be born a sus­pect.

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