EDITORIAL: The ‘race’ to be the face of intolerance
Are you brown-skinned? Do you speak Spanish outside when walking down the street with friends? Do you wear clothing that has Hispanic styles, themes or lettering?
Let’s say all this applies to you – and you’re an American citizen, born and raised right here in Virginia, as were your parents. You follow the law. You pay your taxes. You’re as much an American by law as any sixth-generation white American. Too bad.
If Corey Stewart has his way in the Old Dominion, you could be a suspected illegal immigrant, detained and thrown in jail. Your crime? The color of your skin. Your ethnicity. The way you talk. The way you look.
Stewart is the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, with previous and likely future intentions to run for statewide office here. But before he pads his political resume, he wants to complete his mission of making Prince William, and all of Virginia, his personal, political and cultural Petri dish of emotionally toxic wedge issues like immigration.
Here’s what Stewart wants to do: bring Arizona’s controversial – and perhaps illegal – immigration law to our state. Under the harsh, pernicious new Arizona statute, slated to take effect July 29, police officers who have what is loosely called “reasonable suspicion” about a person’s citizenship status would be required to stop and question anyone who looks like an immigrant. Police would also be authorized to arrest those who are unable to show documents allowing them to be in the country, likely mistakenly capturing innocent legals and U.S. citizens in the process.
The bill would also subject those who transport suspected illegals to harsh sanctions for knowingly driving such people – even if they are relatives or in need of urgent medical care.
This approach has garnered widespread criticism from many law-enforcement, faith and business groups. Rightly so. It has also, of course, commanded a narrow-minded following.
First, we’re scratching our heads to figure out what an illegal immigrant looks like versus a legal immigrant. How do you tell them apart, Mr. Stewart? Does an immigrant with fair skin, who may be from Argentina, get a pass on “reasonable suspicion,” versus an immigrant with darker skin, who may be from Peru? What does a Chinese legal immigrant – or Chinese-American – look like versus an illegal one?
Second, this is called, in its basest form, racial profiling. It’s driven by stereotypes, fear, mistrust and – most jarringly – bigotry. It’s disturbingly, alarmingly reminiscent of not just Third Reich Germany of the 1930s, but of America in the 1950s and 1960s during segregation – a point emphasized this week by local Del. Tom Rust (R-Sterling). As he says, “The targeting of any demographic group is just not American.” Right on, Mr. Rust.
Third, by deputizing local law enforcement to tackle a federal issue, we’re dangerously diverting scarce resources that would be better focused on existing violent offenders and the serious issue of drug trade along the border, not to mention timely antiterrorism needs. This, and a massively difficult task in enforcing the new law, is why so many sheriffs and police chiefs have come out in opposition to the Arizona law.
Fourth, simply put – Virginia is not Arizona. We are not a border state. We do not share the same challenges or the same problems. If Arizona should need more resources to combat the root of the problem instead of ensnaring innocents and legals as collateral damage in the process – then give it to them. Let Arizona build a border fence. Supply them with National Guard troops.
Fifth, under the Arizona statute, any litigious citizen or group would be empowered to file a lawsuit against any town, city, state agency or official that is suspected of not fully enforcing the law. With a statute that many law enforcement officials believe to be unenforceable, Arizona could see a massive tidal wave of spurious lawsuits clogging its court system by year’s end.
Last, and likely most important, is the fact that Arizona – rightly or wrongly – sees the need to act because it has been forced to do so in the context of a political vacuum. This has been created by a Congress and administration too spineless to adopt meaningful and actionable immigration reform at the federal level (where immigration laws belong). Thus, we’re seeing the painful Balkanization of immigration policy now scattered in patches across America in possibly 50 wildly different iterations. A nation founded and built by immigrants deserves better.
Here in Virginia, steps have already been taken to do on a state level what can – and should – be done on illegal immigration. As Rust has noted, we were one of the first in the country to tighten up the rules for possessing a driver’s license. Thanks to another local legislator, state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Leesburg), there is now a presumption of no bail for illegals charged with certain crimes, and a new law to check the legal status of a person accused of a crime at the time of offense through enhanced computer database cross-checking.
Both Herring and Rust oppose an Arizona-style law here in Virginia. We salute their principled vision, and their backbone. We urge their colleagues to follow their wisdom, and we agree with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s statement on an April radio program: “I’m concerned about the whole idea of carrying papers and always having to prove your citizenship. That brings up some shades of other regimes.” Indeed.
Arizona is fast becoming the epicenter of exclusion, intolerance and bigotry – a proverbial police state. We don’t need such a law in Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia – the cradle of democracy – where in an instant an entire ethnic group can become a class of criminal suspects.
Some lawmakers allege there is a sprint among states to emulate Arizona’s scorched earth policy. If there’s a race to be had, it’s a rush to the bottom for privacy, decency and civil liberties. Virginia should take a pass. Corey Stewart, and his agenda, should stay in Prince William.
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