Arizona’s Immigration Law Is Nothing New for Border Residents

27 April 2010

By Jacob G. Hornberger

What lots of Americans don’t realize is that the new Arizona immigration law simply extends to the entire state the requirement that darker-skinned, poorer-looking Americans along the border have had to live with for decades — carrying their papers, just like people in totalitarian countries have to do.

For decades, any darker-skinned, poorer-looking person who travels entirely within the United States but along the U.S.-Mexican border has had to carry his papers with him. There is the possibility that he could be stopped by a U.S. immigration checkpoint as he travels from east to west or vice versa.

Any darker-skinned, poorer-looking person who travels from the border northward must also carry his papers with him. This means people who are traveling north from a U.S. border town to a northern city by car, bus, or plane. Even though the traveler has never entered Mexico, he must nonetheless produce his papers to an immigration official at a highway checkpoint or at the airport prior to boarding, as a prerequisite to leaving the border area.

Any darker-skinned, poorer-looking person in Arizona must now carry his papers with him whenever he travels anywhere within that state. The new immigration law now empowers state and local cops to demand the papers of anyone who they have a “reasonable suspicion” is in the state illegally. Obviously, that standard — “reasonable suspicion,” a standard that is considerably lighter than “probable cause” — is highly subjective and subject to interpretation.

I first pointed out how darker-skinned, poorer-looking people along the border must carry their papers in an op-ed I wrote in 1998 entitled “Domestic Passports for Hispanic-Americans.” As I wrote in that op-ed, I have had first-hand experience with this totalitarian requirement, given that I grew up in a U.S. border town, Laredo, Texas.

To this day, when I fly out of Laredo it boggles my mind that Americans must be subjected to an immigration check at the airport. Mind you, the airport is not at the border. The border is at the Rio Grande, which is located in downtown Laredo. There are huge immigration checkpoints at the international bridges that span the river. The airport is located a few miles north of the Rio Grande. Many, if not most, of the people flying out of Laredo have never traveled into Mexico. They simply have traveled from one American city into another American city.

The immigration official at the airport asks every traveler, “Are you an American citizen?” Most everyone answers yes, and is waved through. But if a person is dark-skinned and not well-dressed, he will be subjected to a closer interrogation. Inevitably he will be required to produce his papers.

It’s no different for travelers going north on the highway to San Antonio. You’re driving along on IH35 and you crest a hill to encounter a surreal sight. It’s an immigration checkpoint that makes you feel like you’re just entering the United States. You are required to stop and answer the question: “Are you an American citizen?” If you’re light-skinned and driving a fairly late-model car and speak English, you’re waved through. But if you’re poor-looking, driving an old car, unable to speak good English, and dark-skinned, you will be required to show your papers.

When I was growing up, my family had a nanny, a woman who is now 80 years old. Her parents were illegal immigrants who were working in Rosenberg, Texas, when she was born there. Like so many other residents of Laredo and other U.S. border towns, she is still unable to speak English, notwithstanding the fact that she has been an American citizen since birth. When she travels to San Antonio, she takes the bus, which is usually filled with very poor, dark-skinned people who cannot speak good English. She tells me that at the immigration checkpoint north of town, immigration officials board the bus and require every passenger to produce his papers. Those who are unable to do so are removed from the bus and detained. Our nanny, who has never driven a car, has had to secure and carry official documents proving she is, in fact, an American. By the way, the feds also confiscate our nanny’s piñatas for my nephews and nieces because, they say, they’re capable of carrying drugs.

As I pointed out in an article last March entitled “Your Papers, Please,” the requirement that people carry their papers with them is an inherent part of totalitarian countries, such as Cuba, North Korea, China, and Burma. The new Arizona law simply expands that totalitarian tradition to a larger portion of the United States.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.




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