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Arizona’s un-American immigration law

As a Latino attorney, I read Jonah Goldberg’s Opinion April 27 Op-Ed column (“Arizona’s ugly but necessary immigration law”) with a mixture of anger and sadness. Goldberg wrote that he supports the new law, the most stringent immigration measure in the country, while allowing that he is “worried that it could lead to civil rights abuses.”

Goldberg mentions what he considers to be intrusive features of government — the Internal Revenue Service, airport security and the new healthcare legislation — as evidence of “necessary” evils. He fails to see what it is about Arizona’s new law that is so egregious. IRS agents investigate Americans of every occupation, religion and ethnic group. Everyone stands in line for airport security. The new national healthcare program law affects everyone.

None of these government actions single out any class of people for separate treatment. Arizona’s law does exactly that. It allows police to demand proof of citizenship so long as they have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is an illegal immigrant.

When she signed this law, Gov. Jan Brewer stated that she would not tolerate racial profiling. Yet at a news conference, she was unable to answer the question “What does an illegal immigrant look like?”

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If she doesn’t know, how are police to know? Because Arizona’s law offers no guidance as to what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is undocumented, police will likely resort to profiling of Latinos on an unprecedented level. Isn’t Goldberg outraged by these apparent violations of the 4th Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure? Or of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause? Guess not.

Goldberg reasons that, in certain situations of federal inaction, states have no choice but to lead by example and take on important issues. Here he cites California’s efforts to combat global warming. While the Constitution makes no mention of climate control, it definitely offers specific guidelines for immigration. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power to create a “a uniform rule of naturalization.” Arizona’s attempt to set its own immigration policy is a usurpation of federal power. There’s nothing “humble” (Goldberg’s word) about that.

Constitutional issues aside, what troubled me most about Goldberg’s article was his apparent willingness to sacrifice the civil rights of others in pursuit of a solution to our immigration crisis. He seems to be of the mind-set that because the new immigration law will not affect him (or his family) personally, then whatever inconvenience or hardship it causes other people is worth it.

What an appalling and selfish point of view. I happen to be Catholic, but I still care deeply about anti-Semitism and its corrosive effects on society. I am a Latino male, and I support the rights of women, gays and all people of color. In other words, just because an issue does not affect me personally does not mean that I am insensitive to its costs and consequences.

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Goldberg notes that 70% of Arizonans support this new law. Fine, but I would like to remind him that this country was not founded on the principle of majority rule but on the principle of liberty and justice for all. Funny, for a conservative, Goldberg seems to have strayed awfully far from his core principle of the rights of the individual to be free from government authority.

Right now, many of Arizona’s roughly 2 million Latinos are wondering about how this law will affect their personal freedom. They are concerned for their children’s safety. They are searching for identification documents for older relatives. Many Latinos, no doubt, will be afraid to venture out without “papers,” even if they are legal residents or U.S. citizens. This type of fear has no place in our society. It saddens me greatly to think that an educated, thoughtful person like Goldberg is only triflingly concerned with this assault on the civil rights of his fellow Americans.

I do agree with Goldberg on one thing: “There is something ugly about the government asking people for their papers.” He is right. And it’s not just ugly. It’s unconstitutional, undemocratic and inhumane. Most of all, it’s un-American.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney living in New York.


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