John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

In perusing the headlines about Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, known as SB-1070, I see that a Washington Post survey indicates that as many as six Americans in 10 support the new regulation, which requires police to check the status of anyone believed to be in this country illegally.

I’ve written about this nasty piece of legislation before, and have been promptly chastised for my position and opinions on the matter. As one critic noted, police in Arizona are required to make their check only after stopping someone for a suspected violation of another, unrelated cause.

Okay, but all that means is that cops are unable to stand on street corners and survey passing traffic (whether on foot or otherwise) for brown-skinned occupants, as a precursor to demands to see papers, please. Instead, any time a cop sees a car full of apparent immigrants from anywhere, or a group of such people hanging out together, all he or she needs to do is watch until some cause shows up.

Unfortunately for the target population, such causes are far too numerous in our over-regulated society. Jaywalking, having a tail light out on a car, pulling out into traffic quickly from a parking place, dropping a cigarette butt onto a curb, staring too long or directing a remark at a pretty girl – you name it, the cops can use it to justify intervention.

Once stopped, if the suspect doesn’t have his or her papers (alien registration documents) on hand, he or she can be taken into custody until legal residency status is determined. Presumably, this would take place at a police station, federal facility or county courthouse, thereby adding to the outrage, alienation and embarrassment of the suspect, whether legal or illegal.

Supporters of the new law invariably maintain that it mirrors federal law, and the statute does cite federal laws as it rolls though its various sections, subsections and clauses.

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But the plain fact is that the new law puts enforcement in the hands of local cops rather than federal immigration authorities. And as anyone knows who has been watching this country’s chaotic immigration battles, the feds are not exactly the paragons of competence they claim to be in this matter. How can anyone expect local cops to do any better?

Are local cops trained to do this kind of enforcement? No, even the Arizona legislation admits that, calling for special training to ensure the observance of civil liberties and rights of those being targeted.

Many local cops in Arizona carry ingrained prejudice and racial stereotypes in their hearts and minds and were biased against Latin Americans before they ever donned a badge. Will a few training sessions eliminate those feelings? I doubt it, and so do those commentators who have criticized this law. Even some of Arizona’s law enforcement executives have said this law is wrong-headed.

According to a report by CNN, thousands of immigration-related laws have been recently introduced in state legislatures across the land, and Arizona authorities report that they have had inquiries from other states eager to replicate SB-1070 in their own jurisdictions.

This is not the first time that minority populations have been subjected to such indignities. Blacks all over the U.S., Jews in Germany, Japanese in California during World War II – the list is long and not pretty at all.

And it is not the first time that the American public, steeped in jingoistic ignorance and fear, has gone along with discriminatory tactics aimed at one group or another.

I’ll grant that the immigration situation along the southern border of the U.S. is a mess, and something needs to be done to fix it.

But laws like this one are not the answer. Rather, they represent a first step down a slippery slope of evil portent.

jcolson@aspentimes.com