Letter from the US: Supreme Court OKs racial profiling

Image from www.aclu.org.

The United States Supreme Court has upheld the core provision of Arizona’s vicious anti-immigrant law.

The part of the law upheld requires police to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop, for whatever reason, if they “suspect” they are undocumented.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewster claims the law would not result in racial profiling. But she is lying through her teeth.

Everyone knows that in Arizona, the only grounds for “suspicion” is having brown skin. No white person will be “suspected” of not having papers.

The vast majority of immigrants in Arizona are Latinos. Some have become citizens. Others have work permits. Many have no papers.

Many are citizens by having been born in the US and a good proportion of these are descendants of Mexicans who were conquered in the mid-19th century war against Mexico.

But the cops cannot tell by looking at a brown-skinned person which category they fall into. So all Latinos will be swept up in the dragnet.

That’s racial profiling.

The New York Times interviewed some Latinos at a market in a Hispanic neighborhood after the ruling. Honorario Hernandez, who is a legal resident, asked: “Will they be able to stop me because [of] the way I look?”

Jorge Martinez, who has no papers, said: “Before, I could get stopped and get a ticket for driving without a license. Now, they’re going to ask for my papers. Then what?”

Rosario Perez, a Mexican immigrant and legal resident said she always carries her Social Security card wherever she goes because “yo soy moreno” — “I’m brown”.

Latino leaders are unanimous in denouncing this provision of the law, which will now go into effect as a result of the court’s ruling.

Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, one of the largest Latino groups, said: “We believe it puts the civil rights of all Americans at risk and it places a bulls-eye on the back of all Latinos.”

The court did strike down three especially offensive portions of the law. One would have allowed police to arrest without a warrant anyone “suspected” of being deportable.

The second would have made it a crime in Arizona for any undocumented person to seek or hold a job. The third would have made it a state crime for immigrants to fail to register with the federal government.

The court did not strike down these police-state measures because they were wrong, however, but because it reuled the federal government has jurisdiction on these matters, not the states.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by the federal government against the Arizona law. But the government’s only argument was that the federal government had jurisdiction over immigration as against the states.

The Obama administration did not raise the obvious intent of the provision the court did uphold: to give the green light to racial profiling by police. Racial profiling of Latinos is well known and documented in Arizona .

One notorious example was the huge crackdown on Latinos by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County in Arizona. Videos of him marching Latino prisoners, chained together in striped prison clothes, through city streets to humiliate them have made their way around the world.

The onus for proving the core provision of the Arizona law amounts to racial profiling now rests on Latinos and supporters of democratic rights. “The Supreme Court,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, “kicked the can down the road, opening the floodgates to racial profiling and years of litigation”.

There are some 11 million workers in the US who don’t have papers, according to official sources. Who knows what the real numbers are.

The capitalists who hire them, mainly in construction, restaurants, and agribusiness, need and want them to stay in the US. But they want them here “illegally.”

As long as these workers are in the US “illegally”, their rights as workers are severely curtailed. The steady stream of deportations, which the Obama administration has greatly accelerated, is not aimed at deporting 11 million people. It is aimed at keeping a climate of fear among these undocumented workers, a perpetual whip over their heads.

Extending this climate of fear to all Latinos, as the Arizona law does, is aimed at intimidating this wider group into submission. But it may have the opposite effect if more Latinos begin to fight back, like the courageous young people I wrote about in last week's column, who recently occupied Obama’s campaign offices, wearing T-shirts openly proclaiming that they were undocumented and demanding their rights.

[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book The Party the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books.]