Guest editorial…Comprehensive ­immigration reform can’t wait

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by Shannon Williams

The immigration system in this country needs to be fixed.

However, it needs to be repaired in a solid, effective and well-thought-out manner—completely opposite of the careless way Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer thinks the issue should be resolved.

For the few who may not have heard about Arizona’s controversy, the short of it is that last week, Brewer signed legislation into law that would allow police officers to determine whether people are in the United States legally if there is reason to suspect otherwise. Supporters of the law say it will control illegal immigration and help with the state’s crime rate, while opponents feel that the law unfairly targets a specific group of people.

I agree with the latter.

The problem with this law is that it promotes racial profiling; something that, unfortunately, Blacks are all too familiar with. While I certainly respect the work of police officers, I question the criteria they would use to “determine” whether a person should verify their immigration status without it being considered racial profiling. A police officer who is patrolling a specific area isn’t going to walk up to a White person and ask them to prove they’re an American, nor is that officer going to randomly ask an Asian to produce a green card. Because of this new law, however, an officer will (and legally can) ask a random Hispanic person to show documentation that validates his or her status.

How can this not be considered wrong?

When I initially heard of SB 1070, I immediately thought of the immense racial profiling so many Blacks are still subjected to day-after-day. As a matter of fact, not long ago, a male friend who lives in Philadelphia told me how he was followed for 20 minutes by a police officer before being pulled over and asked several questions—none of which had anything to do with driving or traffic violations.

You see, my friend works in an urban area of Philadelphia that isn’t necessarily riddled with crime, but it doesn’t have manicured lawns and white picket fences, either. Shortly after he left his office, he noticed a patrol car behind him. Thinking little of it and having nothing to hide, he continued on his journey. As he left the part of town where his office is located, and continued to drive towards the other side of town where he lives, my friend happened to look in his rearview mirror and saw the same patrol car and officer behind him.

That’s when he began to understand.

It’s important to note that as down to earth and non-flashy as my friend is, he drives a fairly new BMW. While the type of car he drives shouldn’t be a factor in anything, it was in this particular situation because he was a Black man, driving an expensive car in an urban area. Immediately the police officer thought that those three elements couldn’t possibly fit together in a legitimate way, so my friend was followed for several miles and eventually pulled over for no apparent reason, other than DWB (driving while Black).

I bring this story up because some of the same maltreatment and generalizations that have plagued the African-American community for decades, now plague Hispanic communities. Such actions aren’t fair and they go against the basic rights and levels of respect that all Americans should have.

I’m the first person to say that our current immigration system is not only flawed, but also dangerous, particularly when you consider the illegal drug cartels. However, there are ways that the issue can be addressed and ultimately resolved that don’t violate one’s civil liberties.

What has been done in past years, can’t be done anymore: we can no longer procrastinate on such an important issue. It needs to be addressed now.

I find it interesting that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., seems to think that climate control (as important as it is) should take precedence over immigration. As a matter of fact, he believes immigration reform can be addressed in 2012.

Arizona’s law is scheduled to take effect this summer. The federal government needs to do something drastic to ensure that it doesn’t. If not, every person in Arizona who looks a certain way, has a particular kind of name, or who speaks with an accent will be unfairly stereotyped and targeted.

(Reprinted from the Indianapolis Recorder.)

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