Friday, April 30, 2010

Racial Profiling Focus is Still a Distraction

(This is an updated version of a post I made a few months back).

I keep hearing people (such as at the last anti-SB1070 rally) repeating their concerns about racial profiling as if this is the main problem with the bill. Racial profiling is a legal term and is against the law. Unfortunately, "illegal" immigration is also against the law. So when people talk about racial profiling, it sounds like they are only concerned with "legal" people.

I have become convinced that the focus on racial profiling is a distraction to the detriment of migrants' freedom. I am not saying racial profiling is okay, but it implies that what is wrong is that people who are being stopped because of their skin color (or other physical cues) are innocent, implying that those who have broken immigration law are not those worth our concerns. Yet, i would hope that those who claim to be allies or advocates for undocumented immigrants would not allow this idea to be promoted.

We've been hearing about racial profiling for a while. Anti-Arpaio folks have been so focused on these sweeps and the racial profiling and all that, yet only 6% of the arrests of undocumented immigrants occur out in the community, whereas the other 94% of migrants are identified for deportation when they go through the jails (and the folks in the jails are those arrested by the various police departments in the valley) (Source). (This is partly why DHS is continuing the agreements of 287(g) that involve jail checks.) Other police departments are arresting more migrants than the MCSO without these hyped-up "crime supression sweeps", as i discussed further in If Phx and Mesa PD are arresting more immigrants, why is focus on Arpaio?

Clearly, if we are concerned about migrants, we would be focused on the various police departments' arrests, on the jail checks, and on opposing wholesale the legislation Pearce has passed and is trying to push, as well as on the federal laws. If it weren't for the federal laws, there wouldn't be arrests and deportations of migrants.

Representative Kirsten Sinema was heard on KFYI 550 (radio) that she doesn't have a problem with all of the anti-immigrant bill that just passed, just a few parts. In the paper she said, "This bill criminalizes people who appear to be Latino and puts them at risk for racial profiling and prosecution and harassment in the state."

Likewise, of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, cheered on at the last rally, Fox News reported:
"Gordon, a staunch opponent of the state law, said that means anyone who doesn't carry an Arizona license -- children under 16, seniors who don't drive and people from out of state -- could be "at risk of being arrested and turned over to (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)."

"It tramples civil rights," Gordon told Fox News on Sunday. "Now everyone has to show and prove that they're a legal resident or citizen."

And yes, this is a problem. A Native American 16 year old was stopped by the police while he was walking and asked for ID. Because he didn't have it, if I got got the story right, he was ticketed or arrested (I just heard this story last night).

Overall, the lefty migrants' rights movement is unwilling to oppose the federal laws, and is therefore limited to using the available laws to advocate for migrants. When the justice department and the fbi announced their investigations of Arpaio, many activists jumped on the opportunity to bring Arpaio down. Yet they are obviously limited to what is already against the law. "The Civil Rights Division has an open and ongoing investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office into alleged patterns or practices of discriminatory police practices and unconstitutional searches and seizures, and on allegations of national origin discrimination. As part of that investigation, we had observers on the ground in Arizona last week." (Source). Ignoring that the federal government is oppressing the migrants just as much, incidents of racial profiling and perhaps other things were reported to the feds.

When we look to the federal government to protect us (or others) from the local government (or anyone), we are confined to the law. If detaining migrants is legal, but racial profiling is illegal, then we document the racial profiling and hand over the videos to the feds, hoping something will come of it. The problem is, much of the injustices against migrants are perfectly legal.

And so while folks are still waiting for the federal government to save the day (maybe they've given up?), they mustn't question the immigration laws or the enforcers themselves. I discussed this back in April in Racial Profiling Discussion Undermines Solidarity with Immigrants when Al Sharpton and a representative of ACORN were on the Lou Dobbs show discussing racial profiling.

The problem is that the way it's being discussed constructs a hierarchy in which people who are not "illegal" are the unintended targets who do not deserve to be stopped, while undocumented migrants are the correct targets of the racial profiling sweeps. Unfortunately, it is difficult to characterize commentators' position on the issue, and to separate media interpretation from advocates' stances. Additionally, racial profiling is often not defined, nor is it explained why it is wrong.

The ACLU defines racial profiling in this way:
"Racial Profiling" refers to the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual's race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime. Examples of racial profiling are the use of race to determine which drivers to stop for minor traffic violations (commonly referred to as "driving while black or brown"), or the use of race to determine which pedestrians to search for illegal contraband.
The idea here is that one should not be suspected of a crime because of how they look, but if one has committed a crime, the way they are caught should not be by appearance. However, one could argue that those who are guilty of a crime should be caught no matter the means. Frankly, there are people who would make themselves out to be advocates for migrants when in fact they do not want to question the law, and therefore do not openly oppose the arrests of migrants under any conditions, involving racial profiling or not.

While some may say that this racial profiling is only wrong when it catches legal residents and citizens up in its net, others may say that what is wrong is for officers to investigate someone's citizenship status just because of the way they look- that a person who is undocumented should have the benefit of the doubt like everyone else. Yet the immigration laws themselves are rarely questioned. Some might state that the offense is only a misdemeanor and therefore should not be treated like worse crimes, yet hardly anyone says that movement should not be a crime. Well, I'm saying it: Movement should not be a crime.

Okay, so say we stop the racial profiling. What then? Are we done or do we move on to the injustices that are sanctioned by the government?

Free movement for all!

1 comment:

  1. i couldnt agree more! i enjoy reading your thoughts so much! keep it up! :) -Angeles