In Arizona, You Must Show Your Papers

Arizona Republican legislators knuckled under to the increasingly influential nativist movement in their party in April when they passed the “Show Your Papers” bill to require local police to stop Latino residents and force them to prove they are in this country legally.

When Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed the bill April 23 she said she would not tolerate racial profiling, but she admitted that she didn’t know how police officers would have a “reasonable suspicion” of someone being illegally in the US, except that she was confident that trained officers would be able to do so. Those assurances prompt eye rolling among Latinos, many of whom can tell their own stories of being stopped and hassled for driving while brown. See our Dispatches (page 22) for the story of a US-native licensed truck driver who was arrested by federal immigration agents April 21 at a weigh station near Phoenix because he was not carrying a valid birth certificate.

The Arizona “Show Your Papers” law requires local police to stop anyone who is “present on any public or private land in this state” and whom they have reason to believe might be in the US illegally. Legal experts say that racial profiling is inevitable, as the law does not prohibit police officers from taking race or ethnicity in account in deciding who to investigate, though it’s not supposed to be the only reason for the stop. And with individuals allowed to sue local law enforcement agencies for not enforcing the law, it is not unreasonable to expect Arizona towns and cities to face lawsuits by anti-immigration groups that believe city police are insufficiently aggressive. Can immigration-stop quotas be far behind?

The state’s association of police chiefs opposed the law, in part, because chiefs fear the cost of defending inevitable lawsuits. Police also are concerned about the loss of cooperation in the Latino community, if any contact with law enforcement can mean harassment and a trip downtown.

In a state where 30% of residents are Hispanic, 10% are American Indians and 13% are foreign-born, police will have their hands full separating citizens from invaders. And don’t kid yourself; even if you’re white, an ornery cop might wonder if you were a Canadian overstaying your welcome. So you’d better have your birth certificate handy if you go stepping out in Arizona.

Don’t get us wrong; illegal immigration is a problem and the federal government should address it, as President Obama proposes to do. But forcing local police to harass people who look like they might be immigrants — and allowing advocacy groups to sue cities that fail to aggressively implement the sweeps — not only usurps federal authority, but it sets up a civil rights conflict that caused US Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz) to call for a boycott of his own state.

A better way to stem illegal immigration would be to crack down on businesses that hire undocumented workers. It is a felony under federal law to knowingly hire an illegal immigrant, but the crime is rarely enforced, as employers can say they didn’t know workers had phony documents and federal prosecutors don’t have the resources to build criminal cases against business owners who are likely to receive probation, at most, if they are finally convicted.

(Arizona in 2007 passed a law that allows the state to suspend licenses of businesses that knowingly employ an undocumented worker, but then-Gov. Janet Napolitano [D] complained that enforcement of the law was underfunded. Controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has raided 30 businesses under the employer sanctions law and arrested hundreds of workers accused of forgery, fraud and identity theft, the Arizona Republic reported March 9. The county attorney has succeeded in shutting down a sandwich shop for two days and is pursuing a lawsuit to close a custom cabinet and furniture business for 10 days.)

Businesses can be required to check Social Security numbers online to see if they match the names of jobseekers. A $1,000 fine for each undocumented worker a business employs, with a portion of that amount going to the person or group that tips the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to the illegal hire, might go a long way toward clearing up the problem.

We don’t expect the “Show Your Papers” Law to survive a court challenge, although if it reaches John Roberts’ Supreme Court, it’s anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, many Republicans are not eager to knock the Latino bee hive, and with good reason. The Census Bureau in 2008 estimated there were 46.8 million people of Hispanic origin in the United States. An estimated 9.1 million Latin Americans in the United States are undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. That leaves 37.3 million Latinos who are citizens or legal residents. Of that number, 9.7 million voted in 2008 — about half of the eligible Latino population. And they voted for Barack Obama and Joe Biden by a margin of more than two-to-one in 2008 (67% to 31%), according to the Pew Center analysis of exit poll results.

(When you hear about 11.9 million illegal aliens in the US, that number includes 1.3 million Asians, 525,000 from Europe and Canada, 500,000 from the Caribbean and 490,000 from other countries. So, like we said, just because you don’t look Hispanic doesn’t mean that an overzealous cop in Arizona can’t stop you and demand to see your papers.)

In 2008, Latinos increased their share of the national vote to 9%, from 8% in 2004, according to national exit polls. Latinos provided the margin of victory for Obama in Florida, Colorado and Virginia, and they were also were key to Democratic successes in Nevada, Ohio and Indiana.

In 2008, Arizona Latinos were 16% of that state’s electorate and opted for Obama by only 56-41. They form 17% of the state’s eligible voters but that share will grow as young Latino citizens come of age. And Markos Moulitsas noted at DailyKos.com April 27 that a survey by Public Policy Polling found Terry Goddard, the Democratic attorney general, still leads all Republicans, including Gov. Brewer (47-44), in the race for governor. The margins actually have tightened, as Goddard has lost his lead among white voters, but Goddard has increased his lead with Hispanic voters from 20 points to 46. “In other words,” Moulitsas noted, “Arizona Latinos have gone, literally overnight, from being perhaps the most pro-GOP in the nation, to joining California as the most anti-GOP ones in the nation. This, in a state in which whites are soon to be a minority [by 2015].”

We don’t hear a lot from Texas Republicans about passing a similar law, but you can bet that similar bills will be filed when the Legislature meets next year. The Lone Star State’s population is now 37% Hispanic — the same as California. Latinos were evenly split between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004 but Obama got 63% against McCain in 2008. Latinos amount to only 20% of the Texas electorate because many are either too young to vote or they are not engaged in politics. As more Tejano citizens reach age 18, smart Republicans don’t want them to identify the GOP with immigrant bashing, the way California Republicans lost a generation of Latinos when then-Gov. Pete Wilson’s 1994 initiative sought to prohibit public education, social services and health care for immigrants. His infamous tagline was “They keep coming.” That proposition passed in California with 59% of the vote, but a federal court threw it out and many Latinos still remember the fear and anger that the Republicans stirred up in the community. California Latinos voted 74% for Obama.

If Republicans alienate the Hispanic electorate in Texas, along with reliably Democratic black voters, Dems won’t need that many white voters to win statewide elections. If that happens, the GOP risks losing Texas’ 34-plus electoral votes after the decennial reapportionment. When Texas turns blue, it’s hard to see how the GOP will build a majority in the Electoral College. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2010


News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2010 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652