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SB1070: The Fear of Racial Profiling

A Supreme Court ruling allows Arizona police to ask for documentation from anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that police officers in Arizona can ask for documentation from anyone they stop if they suspect that they are undocumented immigrants.  While three other parts of Senate Bill 1070 were voted down, Arizona governor praised the high court for maintaining the "heart of the legislation."

I am for one thankful that Illinois is not Arizona, but this ruling by the supreme court still scares me.  It sets a precedent that other states can create their own harsh laws regarding immigration and it promotes racial profiling.  How else will an Arizona police officer know who to ask for documentation?

As a white woman, I will probably never be the target of racial profiling, but I have witnessed first hand the damage it can do to innocent members of our society.  For a summer, I worked as an intern for a refugee resettlement agency.  The US Department of Homeland Security brings refugees from other countries to the US for their safety and provides them with 6 mos. support, a social security card, and health screenings.

One afternoon, I was driving a Chinese family to the health department for vaccinations.  I turned down the wrong street, and I was in a school zone.  I got pulled over for speeding.  Yes, I was speeding.  Yes, I deserved the ticket.  On any other day it would have been a routine stop, and I would have driven home pouting about my misfortune.  However, this stop was different.

Many refugees come from countries where people in power are the reason they feared for their lives in the first place.  This police officer was a frightening reminder of the horrors they faced in their home country.  I tried to remain calm to reassure the family that everything was ok.  Without speaking their language, I tried to use my body language and tone of voice.

The officers took a different approach to the situation.  Instead of issuing me a ticket and moving on with his day, he harassed me about who this family was.  Why are they in your car?  When did they come to the US?  Do you have their documentation?  For the first time, I realized what racial profiling really meant; innocent families facing unfair treatment from those that are supposed to protect them.

As we pulled away, the children were trembling and the mother sat silently with tears rolling down her cheeks.  The family had been terrorized by the same government that brought them to the US to protect them.

How will we stop this from happening in our states?  Why should the Mexican-American soldier who commited 10 years of his life to the Marine Corps be stopped by the police in Arizona and asked for his documentation.  I am disappointed with the Supreme Court and the message it has sent to our nation. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Young June 26, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Megan, the police cannot stop a car just because of suspected immigration violations. If you actually read the context of the law and the Supreme Court decision, you would know that. As for the officer questioning you and the family in the car, that is a part of his/her job. Basically, an officer can ask questions as part of any contact with the public if for no other reason than to determine who you are. Just because your identification says a name, it does not guarantee that it is your name. I find your knee jerk 'cry-wolf' opinion to be disturbing, but I guess that is what happens when you have never dealt with a true threat to the safety of yourself or your community. By the way, your claim of harassment is also disgusting as it takes away from the true meaning of harassment and the true victims. The person that is fondled by their boss or co-worker has been harassed as has the person that is stopped for being black. You were legitimately stopped, by your own admission, and the officer questioned you. That is not harassment and you should rethink your baseless accusation of an officer doing their job. Why don't you leave your little sheltered life and put yourself in the shoes of people that are trying to protect you? Did you ever deal with human smuggling? Did you know that people from other cultures are held against their will? Maybe the officer was trying to make sure that the family was not under duress? I don't know and neither do you Megan, so grow up.
Sara June 27, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Thank you for relating your experiences to current events, Megan. It's such a shame when people are made to fear the same authority that is supposed to offer them protection. Let's make sure Arizona doesn't become an example for other states!
deborah June 27, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Megan, I agree with your concerns about the Supreme Court ruling. And I am sorry to hear about the uncomfortable experience that you had. As far as the experience that you had with the police, there are some police officers that are skilled at asking questions and don't seem threatening and others who abuse their power.
Megan Benham June 27, 2012 at 12:07 PM
First, thank you all for your comments.  I encourage discussion over controversial topics, but please keep any future responses respectful and without personal attacks.   You are absolutely correct that an officer has the right to question anyone whom he/she pulls over during a traffic stop if they think that someone is being victimized (via human smuggling, sexual abuse, etc).  My issue was how the officer approached the stop. The attitude and was not one of concern for the welfare of the family, but instead in a loud, intimidating, and harassing fashion which literally frightened the refugees to tears.  They assumed illegal activities and continued to treat myself and the family as suspicious, even after I proved their legal status as refugees in the United States.   Regarding the Arizona immigration laws, you are also correct that someone cannot “technically” be pulled over simply for being suspected of illicit immigration activities.  However, Paul, you said yourself that our country has a history of stopping Africsn Americans because they are black. My fear is this law will encourage a trend of Hispanics and other immigrants being stopped for their skin color as well. I am not accusing law enforcement, just stating my concerns.   My hope is that we, as a country, can stop treating people certain ways based solely on the color of their skin or ethnicity and instead treat them as friends, neighbors, and most importantly, legitimate human beings.
Jim Starck June 27, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Ms Benham, I am glad to see a state stepping up and enforcing immigration laws since the Federal government is clearly not doing its job. Hundreds of illegals stream over the border everyday and become eligible for federal handouts, and, believe it or not...commit crimes, even though their entry here is illegal in itself. Let's not make this a racial issue, because it is not! It is a matter of securing our border and protecting our legal citizenry. On a side note, if an officer pulls you over, your license is proof of citizenship.
Ed60062 June 27, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Megan, About 95% of the rest of the world would like to come here to live--many of them in much worse circumstances than those in Mexico. Mexico just happens to be next door with easy access. If we were to allow immigration based on need, Mexico would not be first. Obviously, we cannot take in the rest of the world. We need to restrict immigration and have secure borders. What is your solution for that? The federal government is doing nothing, largely to gain votes in the next election. The drug, kidnapping and murder problem is creeping into Arizona and some are trying to protect their "sovereign" state. And, yes, the cop should have been more sensitive in his approach to your passengers. Jim, a drivers license is not proof of citizenship, merely a form of identification.
Megan Benham June 27, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Jim, you should read this US Chamber of Commerce report on the financial myths and facts about immigration. http://www.uschamber.com/reports/immigration-myths-and-facts Immigrants come to the US for many reasons, but federal handouts is not one of them. In fact, most immigrants cannot receive the benefits they pay taxes to help provide. For immigrants, a "federal handout" is usually limited to childhood education and emergency healthcare.
Paul Young June 28, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Actually I did not say our country has a history of stopping black people, I said that it would be harassment to stop someone because they are black. Secondly, Megan, I feel that you at best naive. Your reaction to getting legally stopped is to accuse the officer of racial insensitivity which is disgusting. Call my post a personal attack if you will, but I think that responsible journalism was left at the door when you posted this blog. Fearing the worst about law enforcement racially profiling without stating facts is best left at the cocktail parties rather than as a post in a news outlet. As I stated before, your knee jerk reaction is not steeped in fact, but rather in your own ignorance.
Megan Benham June 28, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Ed, I agree that the current administration is not doing enough to reform immigration in this country, but I do not believe harsher immigration laws and restricted borders are the best answer. Immigrants have been choosing the United States as their home since before it was a country. What made this country so successful was the freedom for new populations to find their niche in society and help grow communities. Instead of closing our borders, I believe the US should provide easier, legal means for immigrants to find jobs and go to college. If they are allowed to become citizens, they will have as much responsibility and passion for the future of this country as both you and I do.
Megan Benham June 28, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Paul, I'm sorry that I took your words out of context. That was my mistake. I am not sorry that I shared my personal story to reflect on my fears about SB1070. I chose to write a personal blog in the opinion and local voices section of the Patch. You too can do the same, just click the link above to start a blog. It is the beauty of the online society we now live in. I could give you facts like, the law states police can ask for immigration status when there is "reasonable suspicion". However, it does not define "reasonable suspicion." If you were an Arizona police officer, how would you decide what is reasonable suspicion? Would they have to be Hispanic? An undocumented immigrant from Canada, Australia, or Poland would probably look like me. Would you just ask everyone you stopped? Congressman Luis Gutierrez speaks here about this exact issue. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/luis-gutierrez-justin-bieber-immigrant_n_1630773.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009 How will they know who is an immigrant. Would you question Selena Gomez or Justin Beiber?
Megan Benham June 28, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Thank you, Sara.
Megan Benham June 28, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Thank you, Deborah. I agree with you. I am so thankful for the officers who go out everyday and protect our neighborhoods. My hope is many in Arizona take that approach.
Chela Huss June 28, 2012 at 01:35 PM
All officers should be trained in "Racial Profiling" and "Cultural Diversity." Especially in Arizona. Chela Huss
Paul Young June 28, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Megan, first off, regarding your comment about blogs; just because you can say it doesn't mean you should so one should really think before they throw baseless and uninformed charges out there. You are entitled your opinion, but my problem with your post is that it is so off base and disgusting regarding the enforcement of this law that it perpetuates a sterotype of the jack booted cop saying, "Papers please!". They are 'illegal immigrants' with a stress on 'illegal'. If our country won't make people follow the process that is set up for legal immigration, why do we even issue visas? They are here illegally and they should be sent home, but until we punish people who break our immigration laws, as every other country in the world does, we will continue to have this problem. It has nothing to do with Mexican, Chinese, or Polish and I find your naive comment about identification not being checked because someone 'looks like you' to fit another stereotype, "The spoiled kid that grew up in the North Shore". If you care to read the papers some day or watch the news, you choose the outlet, you will see examples of the problems caused by illegal entrants. The cartels are using our uneven and inadequate immigration enforcement to their advantage. They and their 'mules' are not getting identified at the border and when local law enforcement comes in contact with them in most states, they cannot do anything to get them out of here. I stand by this Megan, you are ignorant.
Paul Young June 28, 2012 at 01:46 PM
They are Chela.
Paul Young June 28, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Have been for more than 15 years in regards to cultural diversity and about 10 years in regards to racial profiling. Read up on the Illinois House Bill that set this up and the myriad articles on 'stop sheets'.
Paul Young June 28, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Megan why should we find illegal entrants jobs and provide college?
Tony Kovacs June 29, 2012 at 04:07 AM
I think what most frustrates many of us in the immigration debate is the inability or unwillingness of some folks to differentiate between illegal and legal immigration. To merge the two is insulting to those of us with recent immigration heritage because our relatives came LEGALLY to work and enjoy freedom. Can we really say illegal aliens who have broken not only entrance laws but in many cases have fake SSNs are a good neighbor to be put on a citizen path? We can certainly debate who should come legally and how many. I think we should admit only those who have skills we need (high skills) or guest workers with lower skills (what benefits our society) and not focus on family unification or refugees. After all if you miss your family, maybe don't immigrate. And many nations oppress their citizerns. Is everyone a refugee candidate even if they will not contribute to our nation? This is not an anti-immigrant stance-it is common sense for a nation to welcome those who it wants and needs. But in the words of a late Congressman when asked what he thought of illegal immigration-"it is illegal, is it not?" As to the profiling, maybe we all should carry internal passports to present when stopped for various issues. And police should be enpowered and required to report illegals even when the feds choose to do nothing. It sends a message. But some cities prevent this. As to Megans sob story-ensure your passengers if they have nothing to hide-do not worry!
Paul Young June 29, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Well said Tony.
Chela Huss July 02, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Paul, if all officers are trained on these necessary topics, they don't display their knowledge or were absent the day these classes were taught. Let's face it some officers are not sensitive and they abuse their authority - just check out that Sheriff in Maricopa County. How many times has he been sued? Chela Huss
Paul Young July 02, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Chela, you are basing your opinion on the perception of the author of this article. Facts are that officers are trained in what you stated. Facts are Maricopa County is not an agency in Illinois and it is also still illegal to come across our border illegally. If someone came into your house without permission, they would get arrested and I can safely say that you would not expect the police to be sensitive to the offender. As long as the police act within the framework of the Constitution they are fine. As for sensitivity, see how you would get treated if you snuck across the border into any other country. You need stop generalizing and also need to understand that legal immigration should be the norm not the exception.
Megan Benham July 02, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I want to make it clear, I do not think that all cops are "jack booted" and say "give me your papers." In fact, some of the officers in Arizona have said that this law will not change how they approach their jobs in any way. However, regardless of ethics training, in every profession their are bad apples. My problem is that the ruling of SB1070 makes it legal for some officers to push their own agenda.
Megan Benham July 02, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Paul, I am sorry that you think I am attacking police officers. I want to make it clear that I do not think that all cops are "jack booted" and say "papers please". I have friends in law enforcement, and some of the officers in Arizona are against SB1070. However, I think it is naive to ignore the fact that in every profession there are bad apples. This law in Arizona will now allow some officers to legally push their anti-immigrant agenda. This is my concern. In regards to your comments on my own personal life, I wish you would please refrain from making this a personal battle. You and I will probably never agree on this subject. I respect that, but please judge my opinions on what I say and not your own misjudged stereotypes of me and my background. As I was saying, stereotypes and profiling are dangerous because sometimes you are wrong. I am not a "spoiled kid that grew up in the North Shore." I was born and raised in Southern Indiana. My community has an average family income below the poverty line. My parents worked really hard to make sure we had enough. Through their support and my determination, I graduated with a BA from Duke University. I have recently moved to the area with my husband for our jobs. I work with an immigration organization and read the news on the topic daily. Maybe we are just reading different news. Happy 4th of July.
Megan Benham July 02, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Paul, I am not asking anyone to find undocumented immigrants jobs or provide for their college. I want the government to make it legal for them to do both on their own. Despite the harsh environment some immigrants face in the US, immigrants are here to stay. I come from a community where college is more of a dream than a reality and jobs are hard to come by. The result is a never ending cycle of poverty. This could be the same fate for immigrants unless our government finds a way to make it easier for them to further education and begin careers. With ways to find their own jobs and college educations, immigrants will be increasing US economy, literacy, and growing strong, stable communities.
Paul Young July 03, 2012 at 12:31 AM
I did judge youropinions on content and I put to you what you put top the rest of us, a descriptiuon based on naive and impolite assumptions. You brought up assumptiions on how the police were going to abuse this and push their own agendas and I threw an assumption at you on your background.
Paul Young July 03, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Megan, again with the assumptions. Wow!
Paul Young July 03, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Megan, you are lumping in illegal immigrants with legal immigrants, stop it. Legal immigrants with legitimate reasons to be in this country get the benefits they deserve. Illegal immigrants should be afforded no such benefits. If they want health care or college (or a kidney for that matter) they should go home. I don't care if illegal immigrants live a rough life here, they should be treated like the criminals they are.
Paul Young July 03, 2012 at 12:42 AM
One more thing on college, you said that it is more of a dream to go to college in your community, guess what, with the government giving aid and scholoraships to 'undocumented immigrants' it will only get worse. Why should illegal immigrants be given any aid and why should we break their cycle of poverty? What about our poor and out of work? People with similar beliefs to yours speak of education for these criminals being a human right, well, what about my children that will not get grants or financial assistance because they don't fit a special group. My family came here legally, as do many others from all ethnic groups, and we pay our fair share and work within the framework of the law. These people should do the same. Your community in southern Indiana is probably more affected by the labor crisis and income disparity than our area up here so I find it hard to believe that you want our money and jobs going to cheap and illegal labor.

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