Supreme Court's decision in Arizona
v United States will be studied for weeks to come. While the
Supreme Court threw out key elements of Arizona's
anti-immigrant statute, what they permitted was the
right of the police to investigate the immigration
status of individuals who have been stopped if they
- the police - have reasonable suspicion regarding
that individual's immigration status.
is "reasonable suspicion"? This is where
race, and I mean that in the broadest political sense
of the term, always enters the picture. Is "reasonable
suspicion" something that is based on accent?
If so, does that mean that any accent can lead
to an investigation of someone's immigration status?
Let's think for a moment about this. Does the Supreme
Court mean that if an individual has a heavy Russian
accent that that justifies an investigation? Or is
it only certain accents, such as Spanish, Arabic,
Portuguese, French, Chinese, or Tagalog?
Or is it some combination of accent and skin color?
So, a "white" person speaking French is
OK but someone of a darker complexion speaking French
is a suspect?
is not a value neutral term
hate to break it to the Supreme Court but this is
a hell of a slippery slope. "Reasonable suspicion",
particularly in a country with the racial history
of the USA, will inevitably mean
that people of color will be subject to investigation,
irrespective of whether their ancestors have been
here for 300+ years. White authorities, but not just
white authorities, imbued with the intense suspicion
of immigrants from south of the border will certainly
find any number of reasons to be suspicious as to
the status of someone taken into custody or stopped
for some other matter. Will it also be a question
of how one dresses? So, someone of African descent wearing a kufi (a hat often worn by Muslims), is possibly an undocumented
immigrant? Maybe a terrorist to
suspicion" is not a value neutral term. It never
has been. I once overheard some law enforcement officers
discussing so-called "illegal aliens." One
of them complained about the "illegal aliens"
he saw on a regular basis when they were on their
way to work. This officer never stopped to explain
how he knew that these individuals were
Instead, he made the statement and the other officers
acted as if it was obvious that he knew what he was
talking about. Yet I kept wondering how this officer
would handle walking through any number of restaurants
on the East Coast of the USA where they would encounter staff from Eastern Europe. Could this officer detect whether these individuals
were so-called "illegals"
or did his "smell" test only work with Latino
Is "reasonable suspicion"
some combination of accent and skin color?
the Court struck down important provisions of the
law, they simply did not go far enough. It is up to
the rest of us to make sure that the Arizona
law is never repeated and that anything even approximating
a "reasonable suspicion" standard is cast
off into history rather than remaining a racial shackle
around our collective, colored necks.
Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president
of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path
toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized
labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.