Friday, April 23, 2010

Driving While Mexican, or it's no fun being an illegal alien (or looking like one either)

All eyes are on Arizona today because Governor Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070, and I feel like putting a paper bag over my virtual head. Police in our state have now been given the authority to demand papers on anyone of whom they have a reasonable suspicion that they are illegal aliens. The trouble is, about the only reason for suspicion that I can think of that someone is in the country illegally is if they have brown skin, or speak Spanish instead of English, or English with an Mexican accent. Last I checked, that was called racial profiling, which is illegal. Supposedly they are going to come up with some guidelines for deciding when there is reasonable suspicion. Good luck with that.

On every police force there are some Mark Fuhrmans. (One of them is our county sheriff). And what will they do if they get a call about loud music late at night, and that music turns out to be Spanish language music? Do you think they're going to resist the temptation to ask for papers?

Illegal immigration is a serious problem. This is a preposterous way to go about stopping it.

36 comments:

Dan said...

Learning about this from afar, my wife and I are just perplexed. I literally don't understand the justification for this bill, and I'm not being hyperbolic. I get that some people are pissed about immigrants being here illegally, but what is the supposed justification for the bill, and how is the whole racial profiling / civil rights thing being addressed by its supporters?

I admit that I'm probably way far to the "liberal" end of the spectrum on our immigration policy, but I always try to be considerate and understanding of others' POVs. Just don't get this one, though.

David said...

Vic,

What is the "serious problem" of illegal immigration?

What is wrong with enforcing the people's laws in a democracy?

Why does Mexico, a land with incredible resources and people, ship their people North?

If we shipped our unwanted people in the intercity to Canada, who would be wrong us or Canada?

Thank you for thinking in the genuinely Christian view that Mexicans are as human beings. God Bless

Ron said...

Vic,

I agree with you that the new law in Arizona is unfortunate to say the least but I can see why it was passed. Immigration is a federal matter so it is not appropriate for states to legislate on the matter under normal circumstances. However, given that the federal government has not enforced its own laws, what is a border state to do? Such states have appealed to Washington for years upon years for relief but none has been coming. At the most one just gets hand-wringing from D.C.

Mr. Guthrie said...

Its my understanding that the only ones who will be asked to prove their citizenship are those already suspected of being engaged in criminal activity.

Victor Reppert said...

The whole point is that the law makes being here illegally a state crime as well as a federal crime, and therefore you can be asked for papers if there is reasonable suspicion that you are here illegally. The problem is going to come in when someone tries to come up with non-racial criterion for reasonable suspicion. Without such criteria, the law creates an impossible situation.

Can we enforce our laws without singling out Hispanics for special treatment and suspicion, since there are many, many Hispanics who are either citizens or legal aliens. You tell me.

I think we've also got to figure out why it's so difficult for people who want to work in America to get here legally. I heard of a case where someone had to wait 42 years to get here legally.

Gordon Knight said...

Being asked for papers? who's the Stalinist now?

One thing GWB did right (maybe the only thing, along with some aid to africa) was trying to deal with immigration in a sane way. The same people who push laws like this opposed their hero the one time his heart or political instinct was right on.m

Mr. Guthrie said...

The Laws regarding resonable suspicion of possible criminal activity are already on the books and available for the defense of any victim of an unjustified arrest. With the proliferation of required cameras on police vehicles this should reduce the dangers of these types of arrests. Those who are here legally should have proof on them, such as a valid drivers liscense or a voters registration card. As for those who opposed Bush's immigration bill, you will not find one major conservative, with the exception of Pat Buchannon, who has not endorsed an increase in legal immigration. Yes, some may have to wait a long time to become citizens, but considering how many legalized citizens are on the voting rolls it cannot be as difficult as you think. Considering the numbers that are here now, it cannot be that difficult to get in.

Ron said...

I've since confirmed what Mr. Guthrie said about only those suspected of illegal activity having to show their papers. This is in no way some Stalinist move by angry white men in Arizona looking to hunt down some Mexicans. I think you, Victor, and Gordon Knight are over-reacting a bit.

The police and government in Arizona know that they'll be jumped on immediately if this law is abused so I don't think they'll just be pulling over anyone who looks Hispanic willy nilly. Again, it's only affects those suspected of a crime.

Once again, I ask, what do you guys think a rational immigration policy would be? I agree with you on making legal immigration easier. I also think that the federal government should step up and take on their constitutional responsibilities. Amnesty for everyone would be fine as long as the borders are secure.

David said...

Ah yes, the all encompassing obsession with race.

Anonymous said...

Ron,

You don't get it. WHICH borders must we secure? The Mexican one? Why? Because there's mexicans past it? Are we afraid of all those swarthy "for'ners" coming to our country?

There is no way to seal our border with Mexico without engaging in what would be the mother of all racial profiling moves.

bossmanham said...

The actual text of the bill is available here. It clearly states that there has to be a situation "WHERE REASONABLE SUSPICION EXISTS" and cops "MAY NOT SOLELY CONSIDER RACE, COLOR OR NATIONAL ORIGIN". As Mr Guthrie points out, there are already laws on the books that prevent unreasonable search and seizure. All that seems to happen is now cops are able to make "A REASONABLE ATTEMPT...WHEN PRACTICABLE, TO DETERMINE THE IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE PERSON".

What is so wrong with that? They have been prevented from asking about the immigration status of people forever. Why?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think people might be overreacting.

Clearly in Arizona the problem is with Mexican illegal immigration, so using Bayesian kind of reasoning I would expect Mexican-looking/speaking types to be targeted.

Am I being too callous? I worry hat the liberals would have us not enforce immigration laws, just let illegal immigrants stay here once they are here. How do you find out if someone is here legally without asking them for some verification? I realize this is a tricky problem, but does anyone have a better solution?

Incidentally, my police officer friends don't even stop Mexican-looking drivers that are speeding, as they don't even want to deal with the paperwork that would result if they don't have a license and are here illegally.

steve said...

[VR] "On every police force there are some Mark Fuhrmans."

And on every college campus there are some Ward Churchills. (Indeed, I'd venture to say the latter outnumber the former.) Beware of college profs.!

steve said...

[VR] "Last I checked, that was called racial profiling, which is illegal."

Suppose there was a law cracking down on the KKK. Should the police target white dudes donning bed sheets, or would that be illegal profiling?

M. C. Evers said...

One thing I haven't been able to get a clear answer on about this bill is this: just who gets asked for proof of right to be in this country? Can you actually pull someone over because you think they're illegal, or does there have to be reasonable suspicion that you're doing something ELSE illegal (let's say, for instance, a traffic violation).

Will it be standard procedure that EVERYONE who is stopped will be asked for their proof of right to be here (equivalent to all people in a traffic stop being asked for license, registration, and proof of insurance), or just those the police feel like asking?

To me, the former makes sense. Back to the traffic stop example, everyone who commits a traffic violation is asked to provide proof of insurance and registration, not just those the cops might think (for instance) look economically disadvantaged/unable to afford insurance, or who might belong to a demographic that has a higher incidence of not carrying proper insurance. Nobody is targeted...everyone is subjected to the same thing and there is no profiling.

So what I would have to know is which scenario actually plays out with this law, before I come down on one side or the other--because profiling makes me uncomfortable, but an even-handed requirement does not.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, a valid driver's license is going to be sufficient grounds for supposing that a person is here legally. But there is a "reasonable suspicion" clause for asking for immigration papers, but we are told that the police will comply with the anti-profiling laws. But are there any reasonable, non-racial criteria that will constitute reasonable suspicion?

If it isn't used as a rationale for profiling, I suspect that this part of the bill will prove simply ineffective at best, and grounds for a million lawsuits going both ways at worst. Which still makes it poorly crafted legislation, even if our worst fears are not realized.

Anonymous said...

Victor,

Did you just imply that racial profiling would the jobs of people enforcing immigration laws effective and more easy?

M. C. Evers said...

Victor--In that case then I don't know how "reasonable suspicion" could be defined in any way that makes this law work. If it were revised so that EVERYONE was asked for proof of legal residence, then I think it would make total sense (and I don't understand why we're not doing THAT already).

Anonymous--I think Victor means that if "reasonable suspicion" remains in the bill, such that only SOME people are asked for proof and not all, then what non-race-based criteria could they come up with? (Maybe there are some, but I don't know yet what that would be.) Whereas if the bill were revised so that EVERYONE is asked, cops wouldn't have to worry about accusations of profiling any more than they do when they ask to see your proof of car insurance. No judgment call is then necessary--it's just standard procedure for everyone. But when you get these sorts of judgment calls on what ought to be a simple question asked of everyone, then it does add a LOT of complication no matter how good the intentions of those who have to enforce this law are.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Do you have to be here legally to get a driver's license in Arizona?

Victor Reppert said...

A DL would be proof of legal citizenship.

Yes, I think probably you could catch more illegal immigrants if you were to profile. But that would perpetrate an injustice on citizens and legal immigrants who happen to be ethnically similar to the majority of illegal immigrants.

Humdinger said...

To me it seems obvious to go for racial profiles. If 99% of illegals are Mexicans, then, by all means, target Mexicans.

It's a no-brainer.

Is this to perpetrate an injustice against all the legals? Well, it might inconvenience them a bit, but the government has a right to inconvenience its citizens if its the best way to enforce the law.

J said...

Illegal immigration is a serious problem. This is a preposterous way to go about stopping it.

Correcto. Something needs to be done (like more effective patrolling of the border via the Fed. govt.), but this strong-arm solution was not the appropriate something--it just gave more power to street cops.

Victor Reppert said...

According to Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, this law reverses the burden of evidence for people suspected of being here illegally. You have to prove that you are legal, they don't have to prove you are illegal.

I suppose that's the way the do it in Mexico. That is why people get stuck in the Tijuana jail unable to prove their innocence. But that's not the American way.

Mr. Guthrie said...

Regarding the Mayor's comment: Does the new law do away with court hearings? Will legals and illegals be sent to their country of origin without a hearing? Unless that provision is actually in the new law, than the comments by the Mayor can be dismissed as fanning the flames of extreme political rhetoric.

Gregory said...

Steve said this:

"Suppose there was a law cracking down on the KKK. Should the police target white dudes donning bed sheets, or would that be illegal profiling?"

This is not a good analogy. In the case of the "KKK", only "white" people can be included in this category. Any search for Ku Klux Klan members, by definition, rules out "non-whites". So the search domain is very narrow. And, of course, if a white man is donning a hood and outfit with a Klan symbol upon the breast, then it would appear that the search for wanted KKK members has turned out successful.

In the case of "illegal" immigrants, the category is much broader than a single ethnic group. It is precisely because of the ethnically inclusive nature of "immigrant", whether legal or not, to which an impartial observation of skin color, in and of itself, fails to narrow the search domain.

And so the criterion developed for assisting the Police identify persons suspected of illegal immigration must become much more abstract. And, in that case, gives Police Officers a lot of leeway in interpretation. So, even if you happen to be a Natural Born Citizen of the U.S., a Policeman would automatically be granted the authority to pull you over, and search your vehicle, on account of the all-inclusive nature of the "probable cause" criterion (i.e. criterion based solely on skin color).

What this amounts to is the expansion of the authority and powers of Government....and any significant expansion of Government would fly in the face of "conservative" values (i.e. less Government).

Other side of the coin:

Historically, the influx of immigrants to the U.S. has helped plant mafia and crime cartels inside the States. We are reminded of this every time we watch "Mafia" films. But I recommend watching the documentary "Cocaine Cowboys", which chronicles the stranglehold Cuban cartels had on Miami via Castro's move to deport/exile "unwanted" Cuban citizenry (i.e. criminals, sick people, socially unacceptable people, etc.). "Scarface" and "Miami Vice" were the two most popular and culturally significant fictional accounts of 1980's era Miami. At the very least, "Cocaine Cowboys" will help contextualize those 2 shows. But....as hindsight may be 20/20, I think this documentary does raise important concerns about the consequences of lax immigration Laws.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"the government has a right to inconvenience its citizens if its the best way to enforce the law."

Not in the United States. In practice, enforcing the law requires striking a delicate balance between individual liberties and government intrusiveness. The problem with this law, according to its critics, is that it errs on the side of government intrusiveness.

Typically the US prides itself in its striving to err on the side of protecting liberties versus erring on the side of government intrusiveness.

Humdinger said...

"The problem with this law, according to its critics, is that it errs on the side of government intrusiveness."

Right, so the issue is whether or not the good resulting from enforcing the law this way will outweigh the bad of government intrusiveness against a number of individuals.

Fair enough.

But then all this talk about racism looks like a complete red herring. We can project the number of people inconvenienced without even bringing color into it. It should just be about the numbers, not the ethnicity of the people that the numbers represent.

steve said...

Gregory said...
Steve said this:

"Suppose there was a law cracking down on the KKK. Should the police target white dudes donning bed sheets, or would that be illegal profiling?"

This is not a good analogy. In the case of the "KKK", only "white" people can be included in this category. Any search for Ku Klux Klan members, by definition, rules out "non-whites". So the search domain is very narrow. And, of course, if a white man is donning a hood and outfit with a Klan symbol upon the breast, then it would appear that the search for wanted KKK members has turned out successful.

In the case of "illegal" immigrants, the category is much broader than a single ethnic group.

******************************************

To the contrary, it's a perfectly sound analogy. Perhaps you're just too inattentive to notice how Reppert framed the issue: "Driving while Mexican...Looking like one...brown skin...speak Spanish...or English with a Mexican accent...."

Blue Devil Knight said...

"We can project the number of people inconvenienced without even bringing color into it. It should just be about the numbers, not the ethnicity of the people that the numbers represent."

I predict you are not black. :)

The problem is that certain subgroups will be disproportionately inconvenienced. If we just take some weighted sum ignoring race, that could easily wash out the crazy problems created for a small but noticeable minority. A point of pride in US states should be that our law enforcement officials don't selectively target certain groups, even if they are a small minority (e.g., guarding against the "tyranny of the majority").

Note I am sympathetic to this law, I am not convinced it errs on the side of intrusiveness. It may strike a nice balance between jack-booted-thuggery and "let the immigrants bloom" utopianism.

I'm agnostic, waiting to see the practical consequences (this is easy for me to say as a white male living in North Carolina, but I think I can be somewhat objective about this).

Plus, when Al Sharpton is against something, that biases me strongly to be for it. :O

Humdinger said...

"The problem is that certain subgroups will be disproportionately inconvenienced."

It would be disproportionate if you thought that enforcing a law should always spread inconvenience equally across ethnicities, but why think that? It is proportionate relative to stopping illegal immigration, since 99% of them will be Mexicans.

I agree that if the problems visited on the minority are too crazy then they shouldn't be implemented, but again that has nothing to do with race. If 99% of illegals were Porsche owners rather than Mexicans, then nothing about the principles of the debate should change.

M. C. Evers said...

Sorry if double-posted.

My question is, why not just inconvenience everybody? Seriously, how long does it take to ask everybody who's pulled over/detained (i.e. cops already have reasonable suspicion of something else) for proof of legal residency? If you ask everyone, regardless of who they are, for proof, then the problem will fix itself without any ability to levy charges of profiling.

Victor Reppert said...

I think you have to develop non-racial criteria for immigration status investigation, and I think this is where it is going to have to end up. So anybody can be detained if they left their wallet at home and got stopped. Whether this will tax police resources beyond reason is another matter, but given the large numbers of Hispanics in our state, it is hard to believe that this would tax our resources unduly, but the law, if it allows police to profile, will not.

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"I think you have to develop non-racial criteria for immigration status investigation."

How about profiling registered Democrats?

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"I think you have to develop non-racial criteria for immigration status investigation."

Since when did Mexicans become the Mexican "race"?

steve said...

In fairness, I don't think the police should be allowed to check the driver's license of any driver who appears to be underage. That would be agist profiling. And that would perpetuate an injustice against older teens who look younger than their true age.

Likewise, liquor store cashiers should not be allowed to demand ID from customers who appear to be underage, for that would be another case of agist profiling, not to mention the grave injustice to older customers who look younger than their true age.

By the same token, we should abolish statutory rape, since enforcing the age of consent is agist profiling.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Steve I think your analogy with age is a really interesting one I'd be curious to see a response.

I'll try to come up with one, but I think it isn't very compelling. For age, the law is explicit that you can't do XYZ if you are of a certain age. Hence, if it appears you are doing XYZ and you are in that age group, that is sufficient cause for a request for ID.

In the case of illegal immigration, the law is not explicit about any particular ethnic group, so there is no a priori reason to target a particular ethnic group.

If the law were, 'It is illegal to be green-skinned and drive a car' then police would be justified (at least in the narrow legal sense, not moral sense obviously) in stopping all green-skinned drivers. But in this case, there is no phenotypic trait that indicates being here illegally with enough certainty to justify the search.

Is that convincing at all?

If that is right, then perhaps we should go with MC Evers nice idea, and inconvenience everyone equally.

For instance, in my town, they recently stopped everyone driving down a certain road, checking for immigration status (I have to admit thoug, that when they stopped my wife and I, and saw and spoke with us, they waved us through without any concern and didn't actually ask us for any papers, so they didn't exactly inconvience us the same as the darker-skinned couple I saw with the woman crying in the car parked on the side of the road).

But at any rate, regardless of how the Durham PD implemented it, it seems they were striving for an appearance of impartiality, much as they do for those stops looking for drunk drivers.

The concern is the assumption that someone with brown skin and mexican accent immediately deserves suspicion. If the posterior probability of being illegal, given you are brown-skinned and speak with an accent, is above some threshold, then I would be all for the Arizona law, without reservation. Given that the posterior probability is probably extremely low, that suggests to me the concern has some merit that the law may be too intrusive.

Not sure, just throwing it out there this is a very interesting topic for me. My hunch is if we had more latino readers here we'd get some really good responses. I'm just a spoiled white guy after all so haven't seen this from all the same angles as those most likely to be affected.

Another variable to consider in the calculations is how bad the crime is. If we were talking about rapists or murderers, I'd be happy to grant the police these powers. But we're talking about people here illegally trying to improve their lot in life. An economic strain on the states they are in, yes, but is that enough to justify such measures? It isn't clear to me. People can say "We should have the power to enforce laws already on the books", yes. But to put a whole lot of resources into enforcing a law without dire consequences would be a silly use of limited resources.

To sum up, whether it is justified depends on a few factors that people tend to have implicit assumptions about:
1) How bad is the crime, is it worth devoting X economic and law enforcement resources to enforcing it vigorously?
2) Does the law, and enforcing the law, place undue suspicion on people with a certain appearance, given that the law doesn't explicitly specify any particular ethnic group?

Some people focus on what I consider a red herring, which is whether the state has jurisdiction on such matters. That seems to be a legal quibble that doesn't get at the underlying ethical issues.

God I hope this makes sense it is a rambling thing isn't it.