What Does America’s 48th State Have in Common with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Apartheid-Era South Africa?

By David Seminara on April 26, 2010

Opponents appear be divided on Arizona's controversial new immigration law, S.B. 1070. Some liken it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW2, others, including Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, compare the legislation to the tactics of Nazi Germany. The bill reportedly "reminded" Hispanic Federation President Lillian Rodríguez Lopez of South African apartheid, while Robert Creamer, blogging for the Huffington Post, couldn't decided between the Nazis, the Soviets, or merely the Deep South before the civil rights era.

Arizona's S.B. 1070 will allow police officers to detain those that they suspect of being in the country illegally if they cannot prove otherwise, but opponents of the measure aren't being very realistic about how this provision of the law will be enforced. For example, Jim Wallis blogging for the Huffington Post, claims that, "all law enforcement officers in the state will be enlisted to hunt down undocumented people, which will clearly distract them from going after truly violent criminals, and will focus them on mostly harmless families."

The notion that trained law enforcement officials in Arizona are suddenly going to abandon their pursuit of violent criminals, and instead, focus on "hunting down" illegal immigrants is absurd. Those who believe that police officers in Arizona will use this new law as an opportunity to essentially harass law-abiding Latinos, don't give the men and women who risk their lives to protect their communities much credit for having the ability to exercise good judgment and discretion. This isn't to suggest that police officers aren't capable of abuse; the actions of some, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, reinforce the need for strong oversight, but it isn't fair to condemn police officers in Arizona with a broad brush.

One of the most common complaints I've read about Arizona SB 1070 is that police will now be able to pull over whomever they want, effectively legalizing racial profiling. As a white male who's been pulled over by police officers four times in the last year -- three times in the U.S. and once in Mexico -- I can affirm the fact that police officers on both sides of the border already have the right to pull you over for any reason, or no reason at all. Most of us have no qualms about keeping a photocopy of our proof of insurance in our glove compartment, or about being asked for our driver's license or registration.

Yet somehow, the notion that immigrants should keep a photocopy of their passport, green card, birth certificate, or visa in their glove compartments makes us Nazi Germany. The truth is that many developed countries around the world require citizens to have some form of a national I.D.

So what's behind the fears and anxiety surrounding this legislation? Even though there are illegal immigrants of every color and creed in the United States, the lion's share of illegal immigrants in Arizona are from Latin America, and thus, many Latinos are concerned that they will be unfairly targeted. Why should some of us have to carry proof of legal status while others will not? It's a fair point, and it reinforces the need for us to have some form of national I.D., but I would argue that keeping some proof of legal status in your wallet and vehicle is a small price to pay for having the privilege to live in the U.S. As a former consular officer who has interviewed thousands of foreign nationals for U.S. visas, I can tell you, unequivocally, that if you ask foreign visa applicants, "Would you be willing to carry your passport or green card with you if you were granted the right to live in the U.S.?", 100 percent of them would say, "absolutely, please just give me the visa!"

While the fear-mongering over the impact of SB 1070 isn't justified, it is important to acknowledge the concerns that people have with the law. Law-abiding legal immigrants shouldn't have anything to worry about, but for some, the very notion of being asked about their legal status is insulting and makes them feel second-class.

We need to respect the sensitivity of the issue, but that doesn't mean that law enforcement officials shouldn't be able to help enforce our nation's immigration laws. The idea that officers are suddenly going to be detaining Latinos out for a Sunday morning jog or walking their kids to school isn't realistic.

The reality is that the vast majority of all immigration-related police inquiries will come during the apprehension of non-immigration related crimes. This means that an illegal immigrant caught selling drugs, or driving drunk, or shoplifting might be deported instead of just given a slap on the wrist.

Most Americans back the law; a Rasmussen poll found 70 percent support in Arizona and 60 percent support nationally. The poll also found that 58 percent of respondents were at least "somewhat" concerned" that "efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants will also end up violating the civil rights of some U.S. citizens."

Given the widespread misinformation and condemnation of SB 1070 in the news media, it's a wonder that figure isn't higher. Still, Arizona's tough new measure is going to be under tremendous scrutiny, so law enforcement officials in the state are going to have to strike the right balance between enforcing the law and respecting the rights of those who are here legally.

You can bet that there will be huge news coverage the first time a legal immigrant or U.S. citizen is wrongly detained based upon suspicion of illegal status. But will anyone be there to cover the story when the first violent criminal is deported thanks to this new legislation? Somehow, I doubt it, and, in the current political climate, Arizona has its work cut out for it in figuring out how to fix a problem the federal government hasn't had the resolve to address itself.