Can someone 'look illegal'?
From the editorby Anna Groff
As Phoenix 2013 approaches, Mennonites who prepare to attend the convention, participate online or abstain for a variety of reasons will benefit from a broader understanding of Arizona’s history and culture.
Back in 2010, after the signing of Arizona’s immigration law, members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe began to take special precautions when leaving their reservation in Eastern Arizona.
Despite their undisputed U.S. citizenship, many tribal members made sure to carry their state identification and tribal identification cards, says Salina Washburn, a member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and an adult services specialist.
In June, the Supreme Court upheld a disputed aspect of the law, SB 1070, that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. This “show me your papers” policy carries far-reaching—and perhaps unexpected—repercussions.
First, immigration issues in this state cannot be defined as simply a tension between Arizona and Mexico. Arizona—a state since only 1912—was the last of the contiguous states admitted into the union. About one-quarter of Arizona is federal land that serves as home to a variety of Native American tribes.
Guadalupe—a town within Tempe, Ariz.—illustrates the combining of cultures in the Southwest, as it is a community of Hispanic individuals and Pascua Yaqui Indians. Before returning to her reservation, Washburn lived near Guadalupe. Prior to the law, she felt safe walking around but later felt profiled by police.
When Native Americans are away from their reservations, police profile them based on skin color and the style or upkeep of a vehicle, she says. Some Pascua Yaqui Indians in Guadalupe experienced so much pressure that they chose to write, “I am a U.S. citizen” on their windshields.
This action was not necessary in the past. A 2010 resolution from the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona points out that some tribes have not required members to carry tribal membership documents, and some members do not even possess a birth certificate or proper documents. Furthering the potential for discrimination, some Southwest American Indians also hold traditionally Hispanic last names.
Second, the law affects the spectrum of ethnicities abundant in Arizona. According to Fred Soto, White Mountain deputy tribal attorney, the law introduces skin tone and race into a legal standard used in determining how to apply and enforce law.
Soto asks: “Why should I, or an Apache man or a Navajo woman, or even a dark-skinned Caucasian American be treated differently by the law from the light-skinned Caucasian, Hispanic, Native American or Asian?”
Soto posed this question to a Gila (Ariz.) County candidate for sheriff in a room full of Apache leaders and constituents. The candidate said he would establish policies to ensure the law was not abused. SB 1070 would only “kick in” if the individual in the traffic stop “was not wearing shoes, was shirtless or looked illegal.”
How can someone ‘look illegal’?
Stories like this and Washburn’s demonstrate that the immigration law unfairly affects many people of color, since it creates a new lens for law enforcement and places unrealistic expectations on law enforcement officers.
Energized in new ways, Arizona residents are speaking out against the law, for example, by protesting at the Tent City Jail in Phoenix and supporting the trial against Sheriff Joe Arpaio for alleged racial profiling.
With open minds and a humble approach, Mennonites attending Phoenix 2013 can prepare to add their voices and speak against the injustices.
Anna Groff, associate editor, lives on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona.
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