Friday, April 30, 2010


OK. I’m going to get into a topic which can easily turn ugly. If you can’t talk about things like Arizona’s recently passed immigration law without getting strident, nasty or crazed, then please stop reading now. There are some wonderful baseball blogs to occupy your time. And, yes, for the record, this is a non-Jewish post, so if you only care about my thoughts regarding Judaism…well, those baseball blogs are really, really good.

Still here? Good. Deep breath. Let’s continue.

As most of us know, Arizona just passed a law which states that if a Police Officer is “reasonably suspicious” that a person might be an illegal immigrant, they can (in fact, they must) check that person’s papers to verify their legality.

Not surprisingly, the liberal voices in the media started protesting immediately. The New York Times has called on President Obama to nullify this law, as an act offensive to Civil Rights. The New Republic has argued that this law is really all about irrational hysteria and political posturing. And, of course, John Stewart has weighed in, mocking Arizona all around.

To a liberal, such as myself, the arguments were obvious – this is an open invitation to racial profiling (which is, I believe, illegal, although I hear different opinions about what that actually means), to oppressing minority groups, just because they share a physical appearance with other people who are coming into our country illegally, and to creating a kind of Police State, giving the police the power to harass whomever they want (which circles back on the profiling argument, since no one is worried that that Arizona police are going to start harassing blond men in Polo shirts). There are also some side arguments, such as the legality of a state enacting immigration laws.

Then, yesterday, The New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Kris Kobach, one of the authors of the legislation. Kobach offers a cogent, calm rebuttal of the major claims being made against the law*. In response to the “racial profiling argument,” he argues that “Reasonable Suspicion” is a well defined term, legally speaking, and that the law expressly prohibits using race as the sole determinant of suspicion. There’s no real danger of the problems being floated by the law’s opponents, he claims. There is nothing to actually worry about, if you use logic, rather than rhetoric. If you oppose the law, then it’s well worth giving this short piece a read.

* Major kudos to the Times for being willing, as they often are, to give space to someone who’s views expressly contradict the stated editorial opinion of the paper.

Well, that leaves a bleeding heart liberal, who tries to stay fair-minded and avoid knee-jerk reactions (such as myself) in a bit of a quandary. As is often the case, both sides actually seem to have a point (if you want to read a wonderful sermon sermon I gave on Yom Kippur on this, check this one out).

I tried to do some poking around on the ol’ Intertubes, to find some reasoned, balanced arguments. Something which would analyze the claims being made by both sides. Something that was addressing the arguments from the other side, rather than just talking past them. Hard to find.

Then, it dawned on me. I may not have many readers, but they surely are the smartest bunch of people out there! So, I’d ask them for an opinion.

My instinct is that, while Kobach’s arguments sound logical, they’re not realistic. Saying that “Reasonable Suspicion” cannot legally, and therefore will not, lead to Racial Profiling might work on paper, but will never actually hold up in the real world. Arguing that all that this law is doing is creating a framework of enforcement around established law (that is, it’s helping police illegal immigrants – who are, by definition, here illegally) and isn’t about any kind of racial battle is naive (at best), given the type of nasty, racist rhetoric which has been part of this debate. In other words, when people talk about “those people destroying our country” and such, and then claim to be unbiased – well, let’s just say that I view that claim of neutrality with a bit of suspicion.

So, what do you say? Knowing that I’ve got some lawyers and academics and thinkers and good people and smart people looking at this, what do you think of the law? Of Kobach’s defense of it? Of my reaction to it?

Please keep in mind – this is a call for rational, respectful debate. Disagreements are, as always, welcome. Respect and decency are mandated.

Truly looking forward to your opinions.

1 comment:

LizStrom said...

Can't resist chiming in here, although I have little to add -- I'm also stuck in the "on the one hand, on the other hand" position. Of course it will lead to racial profiling. But...we don't have an effective immigration policy, and while immigrants (legal and otherwise) have an overall very positive impact on our culture and our economy, any negative impacts they may have tend to be concentrated on border states like Arizona.

Frankly, I think differences between liberals and conservatives on this topic live more in the realm of the symbolic and emotional than in the realm of the "rational". As a liberal, I'm generally happy to live in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nation, and I'd prefer to deal with occasional problem that pops up from immigration than the loss of liberty and diversity that stems from hard clamp downs on immigration. For conservatives those trade offs look different.