The U.S./Mexican border is thin and porous at El Paso, and for as long as I can remember, the Immigration Service’s last line of defense are roadblocks on I-10 as you leave that city toward the Texas hill country, and in New Mexico as you travel west. Most are stopped and interviewed; for most obvious Caucasians the interviews are short and ask about birthplaces and travel itineraries.
But a few years ago, the interviews suddenly got longer for us. We were still randomly traveling back and forth to Las Vegas (where we lived part-time), usually at night, in a late-model American car clearly in road-trip mode. We were still in our “one drives while the other sleeps” days; my partner typically drove that section (he likes to drive at night), and I slept under a blanket.
For the longest time, we couldn’t figure out what changed, until we realized we’d bought a new blanket at a truck stop that replaced the red old red cotton one we used to travel with. The new blanket was a Mexican serape blanket, which with my then-darker curly hair was just enough of a tripwire to warrant a few more questions.
The governor of Arizona assures us Senate Bill 1070, which she signed into law over the protest of the president of the United States and the government of Mexico, will not racially profile, and will not exacerbate racial tensions.
Governor Brewer said specifically that she sought changes to make sure racial profiling and discrimination would be not tolerated, saying “That effort led to new language in the bill, language prohibiting law enforcement officers from ‘solely considering race, color, or national origin in implementing the requirements of this section…’”
Since the law hopes to curtail the presence of people with certain legal statuses based primarily on national origin, this has got to be the best example of doublespeak since the writings of George Orwell. She goes on to say that her state will do nothing more than what the Federal Government should be doing, and she cites federal enforcement as a kind of gold standard. But the federal enforcement has hardly been profiling-free.
There’s a good chance Governor Brewer knows this: “We must acknowledge the truth – people across America are watching Arizona, seeing how we implement this law, ready to jump on even the slightest misstep,” she said at the signing ceremony.
Enforcement of immigration law based on visual observation of people officers come into random contact with is a lousy methodology, and its not going to scale well. There are a lot of arguments that can protect blockades on interstate highways that won’t fare so well when immigration status is thrust as an important factor into virtually every state/individual contact.
The enactment of the law itself is a misstep, and it won’t take long for the egregious examples to populate the blogs and websites and pepper traditional media. It won’t help that Arizona pleads that they’re taking their lead from the Federal Government.
Fact is, Federal enforcement has long been based on racial profiling, and if you don’t believe that, buy a serape.