Arizona police find themselves forced to ask
‘What does an undocumented immigrant look like?’
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
When Arizona enacted an immigration law that put enforcement in the hands of the local police and sheriff’s departments, it did so as a result of the Federal government’s failure to address a broken immigration system, according to Sister Angela Erevia, MCDP.
But while she understands the problems associated with the current system, Sister Angela said that Senate Bill 1070, which was passed into law April 23 by Arizona governor Jan Brewer, is not the way to handle it.
“We are concerned about border security,” stressed Sister Angela, Director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Dodge City. “I’m concerned about the smuggling of humans across the border and the drug trafficking. I’m concerned about the dangers that they pose to the residents along the border. But the way to deal with it is not state by state, but by the Federal government taking on the whole issue of immigration reform.”
The new law, including the amendment signed by Gov. Brewer seven days after she signed the first bill into law, states that police may investigate an individual’s immigration status when an encounter occurs during a “lawful stop, detention, or arrest.”
In the past, arrests or investigations were conducted by federal agents – most often during raids on companies, including meat packing plants. Now, simply running a stop sign can result in arrest and eventual deportation.
It’s an issue that has not only enraged the immigrant population, but many police officials as well, who see their new roll as undermining their efforts to keep law and order.
Police officers are forced to ask themselves what denotes “reasonable suspicion,” thus allowing them to question a person’s documentation. What does an undocumented immigrant look like? Will Canadian or British immigrants be questioned as to their legality when pulled over for a traffic violation? Will the large Native American population in Arizona suddenly find themselves asked to provide proof of residency?
Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was the first law official to come out against the law, insisting that it will result in racial profiling.
“If I tell my people to go out and look for A, B, and C, they’re going to do it,” he said. “They’ll find some flimsy excuse like a tail light that’s not working as a basis for a stop, which is a bunch of baloney.”
Unfortunately, Dupnik’s actions could get him in a lot of trouble, since the law allows citizens to sue law enforcement officials who fail to comply with the law.
Another question being asked is equally disturbing: Will Hispanics begin to distrust the local law enforcement, refusing to report crime, or leaving a crime scene because they are afraid to serve as a witness?
Regardless of the arguments against the bill, at the heart of the issue for many Americans is the simple fact that the undocumented immigrant is breaking the law. Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe recently unveiled a proposed law mirroring the Arizona law, saying that he wanted all undocumented immigrants in the state in jail or “sent home.”
Others see it as a moral issue. They see a broken immigration system so bogged down in red tape that families are forced to wait years – sometimes separated from each other – before the proper documentation is awarded. It’s a system they say forces people into the shadows while simply trying to feed their families, Sister Angela said.
“Of all organizations, the Church is the one that they need in order to have a sense of community and a sense of belonging,” Sister Angela said. “That’s why it’s important that we as Catholics look at our Gospel values of welcoming the stranger.
“First of all, there’s the fear of separating parents from their kids because some of the children are citizens and some of the parents may not be,” she said. “So they’re afraid they might be separated.”
An article in a past issue of the Southwest Kansas Register detailed the story of a young girl who came home one day, sat on her porch until night had fallen, waiting for her mother who never came home because she had been arrested and deported that day.
It’s a story that Sister Angela believes will be repeated often in Arizona.
“Can you imagine the fears of kids who have undocumented parents -- going to school and not having the security of family? How can they learn at school when they are concerned that their parents may not be there when they get home? Psychologically it breaks down people.”
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have always been on the side of immigrants, respecting their dignity and protecting their human rights. In 2003, the U.S. Bishops wrote a document detailing the need for immigration reform: “Strangers No Longer; Together on the Journey of Hope.”
In part, it reads: “In recent years, immigrants have been subject to laws and policies that debase our country’s fundamental commitment to individual liberties and due process. These laws and policies, including detention for months without charges, secret hearings, and ethnic profiling, signal a sea of change in our government’s policies and attitudes towards immigrants.
“We are a nation with a long, rich tradition of welcoming newcomers. Government policies that unfairly and inappropriately confuse immigration with terrorism do not make us safer, tarnish our heritage, and damage our standing abroad.”
The bishops urge our government to revisit these laws and to make the appropriate changes consistent with due process rights.