Sunday, April 12, 2009

Racial Profiling Discussion Undermines Solidarity with Immigrants

The video of Lou Dobbs's show on which Al Sharpton and a representative of ACORN named Bertha Lewis criticized Arpaio has been emailed around. It exemplified my concern about the focus on Arpaio and racial profiling, which overshadows the real issues. Because they don't want to take a stance on "illegal" immigration they skirt the issue and focus on how it hurts the people we should be more concerned about.

Below are some excerpts of the transcript from the show. As you can see, the issue they are concerned with is only the racial profiling. I certainly don't think racial profiling is okay, but the focus on stopping people because of their skin color reinforces the idea that there is a supposedly legitimate reason to be stopping people- but it isn't the color of one's skin. What's left unsaid is that people being harassed and arrested because they are undocumented is not that much of a problem. Either that or it is not strategically useful to address that. Why not?

I understand that addressing the racial profiling exposes the hypocrisy of the sheriff's law enforcement tactics. And when the audience understand that as citizens they too can be caught up in this crazy man's antics, they might have sympathy for undocumented people. But the way the racial profiling thing is being discussed, it creates a hierarchy of people based on value. The citizen is more valuable than the non-citizen. The legal is more important than the "illegal". Sure, if you're on a mainstream tv show, especially Dobbs's show, it makes sense to speak the language. But i tend to think that the idea is not to advocate for the undocumented by exposing the racial profiling.

Despite the fact that Sharpton and Lewis were denying political motivation (as in not trying to gain power for Democrats), they are at the same time buying in to the terms of the debate set by mainstream politics. Even though they are criticizing Arpaio, i do not see them as advocates for undocumented immigrants.

If we want to be in solidarity with undocumented immigrants, we mustn't allow these movement leaders to control the terms of the debate.

SHARPTON:But when we are told that you have a sheriff that are pulling people over constantly because of the color of their skin, they become a suspect of being an illegal immigrant, that's a civil rights violation, Lou.

But on top of that, when you get people that are born American citizens saying because of the color of my skin, I'm constantly pulled over, questioned about show my citizenship papers, this is a violation of people's civil rights...

LEWIS: He actually is giving law enforcement folks who do the right thing a bad name.

Let me just say this. The federal government's job is to protect our borders and to make sure we have the same immigration program and so therefore...we cannot have people like Arpaio taking anything that he wants to do and profiling based on people's color. It's not right.

DOBBS: You conflated a number of things. One, that he is indeed racial profiling which he denies which by the way his department denies and over a fifth of his department is Hispanic, by the way. The rest of the statement that's interesting is, I asked you how is the federal government doing, in enforcing border security, and in enforcing U.S. immigration law. And what's ironic about that is, Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security as governor of Arizona was the first person to call for emergency action on the border in her state.

SHARPTON: Well, again, we're confusing two issues. I think what National Action Network and NAACP board joined with ACORN today was on the violation of civil rights. We're not talking about immigration policy, one way or another on that issue...

SHARPTON: ...Bertha and I may disagree on how to deal with the border. All of us agree that people because of the color of their skin should not be stopped. When they do, we ought to deal with it. That was the basis we came on.


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