By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
If you think it's embarrassing for an African-American to have to identify himself to the police while in his own house, imagine how humiliating it is for U.S.-born Hispanics to have to prove their citizenship in their own country.
With racial profiling in the news lately, it's worth noting that America's largest minority has to endure the practice, too — with a twist. According to several studies, not only do Hispanics get pulled over by police and have their cars searched at a higher rate than whites, but they also sometimes suffer the indignity of having to prove that they have the legal right to even be in the United States.
Things get really insulting when the question is asked in the Southwest. In Arizona, some Hispanic families have lived there for eight generations; in New Mexico, some Hispanics trace their roots back 500 years.
Nor is it just a minor inconvenience. There have been moments in history when things went haywire. The most infamous example is "Operation Wetback" in 1954, when the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service set out to remove 1 million illegal immigrants by sweeping Mexican-American neighborhoods and conducting random identification checks of anyone who looked Mexican. Many of those deported were U.S. citizens. Back then, the Border Patrol got help from local police agencies.
This ugly fad is making a comeback. Some local agencies are itching to play Border Patrol agent.
Not a good idea, according to police chiefs who recently urged Congress to bar local police from immigration enforcement. Updating recommendations by the leaders of more than 50 urban police departments, the chiefs — including John Timoney of Miami, Art Acevedo of Austin, Texas, and Art Venegas, formerly chief of the Sacramento Police Department — also urged that illegal immigrants be given legal status so that law enforcement can keep track of them.
A recent report from the Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that spent a year meeting with police officials and community representatives from around the country, concluded that law enforcement works best when everyone stays within their jurisdiction. According to the report, when local police carry out immigration enforcement, it often undermines — rather than preserves — public safety.
Once trust is eroded and word gets out that a community of immigrants won't talk to police — not even when they've been victimized — all manner of predators will seek them out. Crime will go up, as will the number of victims.
All so a local sheriff can brag about being a "tough guy" to voters or a police chief can cater to nativists on the city council. Never mind that local cops and sheriff's deputies usually don't have the skill sets to enforce immigration law, which is why mistakes happen.
And speaking of mistakes, Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems to be making more than his share. I was writing about the self-proclaimed "America's toughest sheriff" 10 years ago while working for the Arizona Republic. That was before Arpaio discovered the power of the immigration issue to feed his addiction: getting on television. Now the sheriff and his posse are rounding up Hispanics wholesale, playing the averages on the assumption that most of them are here illegally.
That's ridiculous — and illogical. Yet logic was never Arpaio's strong suit. The one good thing to come from his stunts such as parading illegal immigrants through downtown Phoenix like prize cattle is that the federal government may tug on his leash. Congress and the Justice Department are investigating complaints of civil rights violations, and the Department of Homeland Security — after initially looking the other way — might strip the sheriff of the authority to dabble in immigration enforcement.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, said recently that her department would revamp the controversial 287(g) program, which allows state and local police agencies to make immigration arrests. Napolitano wants to require the agencies to clear plans for immigration sweeps with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and coordinate with ICE agents before releasing information about such sweeps to the news media. She also wants to prevent agencies from arresting people whose only infraction is being in the country illegally.
Arpaio doesn't like those terms, and he says he might not sign the agreement. If he doesn't sign, the feds say they'll kick him out of the program.
Sounds like a plan. What are they waiting for? Kick away.
Source: Mercury News