Your (News)papers, Please

I’ll be the first to admit, when news stories surrounding a controversial new immigration law in Arizona started popping up, I didn’t pay any attention to it. As they shifted to stories of the large protests against the apparently Naziesque law, I still didn’t look much into it, but my interest began to spike a bit; clearly if something is evil enough to move thousands into their streets to cry foul, then it’s something worth noticing. So, when a news program on Sunday morning started explaining some of the details, I sat by and listened in relative disbelief about the events surrounding this much-maligned law.

Not, though, the surprise I expected to feel.

I expected to be shocked by the contents of the law. I expected to be repulsed by their racist doctrine, to be bowled over by the insane goings-on in a state not too far from my own. The reality, though? I was shocked — more than shocked, really, but I haven’t got a good word for it — that people are upset about this new law. The body of the law seems to focus on a few points: firstly, the verification of citizenship when arrested for unrelated violations; second, the right to (with “probable cause”) demand proof of citizenship; and last, the seemingly benign edict against hiring from, or out of, any vehicle which impedes the flow of traffic. Now, I’ll be frank — that middle one definitely carries the stink of potential racial abuse, but looking past that …

Federal law mandates that these documents exist, and that citizens should, within reason, have access to them at any given time. A state ID, a Social Security card, driver’s license, and so on. These are already standing laws of our country. Nothing new there. All that the new Arizona law has done in that regard is create a state law which helps to back up and enforce the existing national standard. In short, it makes it illegal to be here illegally; what really surprised me about this uproar is this — I never knew that wasn’t already being done. Why would we have the term “illegal immigrant” if something isn’t actually illegal, and enforced as such? Why haven’t police in every state, every city across the country, been verifying the identity and citizenship of every single arrest? It sounds to me like this offers a safeguard against putting illegal immigrants into the American prison system — an already-stressed system, to be sure — which would, in effect, reduce the amount of tax dollars being thrown at the “problem” (that is, if they’re in our system, we’re paying their food and lodging bill).

The crux of the debate, though, is in the middle section I mentioned above; the “probable cause” statute allowing police to require proof of citizenship / immigrant status from anyone for whatever reason they see fit. The problem with this isn’t so much the idea behind it, but the ambiguity and the parts of the process left up to the individual judgment of the police officer(s) in question. Obviously, this has a strong potential for abuse along racial lines — I don’t think we’re about to see AZ state troopers pulling over cars full of suspected Canadians, for instance, to inquire about the legality of their visit to the good ol’ U.S. of A. That said, the law itself is not (in my ever-so-humble opinion) inherently racist; it’s just ambiguous. To call it racist is, I think, a lack of faith in the men and women serving our justice system which may be wholly justified, but that’s a problem with our countrymen, not with the law.

I believe the first part of the law — verifying citizenship/immigrant status of individuals arrested or suspected in unrelated incidents — should become the national standard if we, as a country, are going to take any kind of stand against the influx of illegal immigrants from any side. The second portion, though, needs some thorough review and some general “common sense” bylines to prevent abuse, but again, I don’t think it’s something comparable to the Nazi regime’s treatment of the Jewish community. There’s a difference between demanding proof of legal status within a country and the mistreatment of citizens of that country, and unless this branches out into shoving legal Mexican immigrants into prefabricated “ghettos” along with their border-jumping former countrymen, I think it’s a ridiculous comparison to make. Are there similarities? Sure, but I can draw a lot of similarities between nearly any piece of legislature and the practices or beliefs of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini — the list goes on, but you get the idea.

I think that as a nation, we’ve become so accustomed to stories of abuse of the justice system, along with our endemic culture of paranoia, that we jump on the chance to demonize our political enemies by sorting them with the great beasts of the world’s past. The information age has made it easier for everyone to spread their own brand of fear or hate, and for similarly-minded people to band together in organized events nationwide, making the impact seem stronger than it would otherwise. We’ve grown our own brand of self-suspicion, always operating under the assumption that any law passed, any word spoken, any accomplishment in the public eye is simply a mask for some darker purpose, that some agenda (contrary to our own) lies just beneath the surface waiting to be exploited by the evil perpetrators of these wicked acts.

Hell, just look at me. I’m ranting against a bunch of people ranting against something that I don’t see nearly as much wrong with. And this rant, in turn, will inspire people to rant against me, to tell me that I’m just being blind to Big Brother’s scheme to kill anyone that’s not a white Christian conservative. Or that I’m buying into the lies sewn by the radical left, radical right, or maybe even the radical middle-of-the-road, if that can exist.

So. Am I reading the law incorrectly? Is everyone else? I’d love to have debate on this one.

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