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Profiling and illegal immigration in Chatham County

By Brenda Denzler
Posted Saturday, March 21, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - The issue of racial profiling has been raised as one reason why enforcing our laws against illegal immigration is not do-able. I think this is probably the strongest argument the pro-illegal group has going for them. There are real dangers of this occurring. We know that it happens from time to time against our own citizens in the enforcement of other laws--or even just the "possible" enforcement of other laws. Young black men running along streets in well-to-do neighborhoods have been stopped for no other reason than that they are young, black and male. This, needless to say, is blatant racial profiling.

But the fact that there is a danger this will happen should not, all by itself, be a reason to refuse to enforce our laws. It has not stopped us from enforcing the rest of our laws, in this country. Nor should it stop us from enforcing our immigration laws. The danger of racial profiling just means that we have to be very careful to educate our law enforcement and to
help them make evidence-based decisions in deciding to act in a given situation.

Stopping every speeder is not racial profiling. Stopping only speeders that whiz past you looking like they may be Hispanic is racial profiling.

Of course, there are those who will say that once you've stopped a speeder, checking the bona fides of those who appear to be Hispanic is, in itself, racial profiling. I think, on the whole, that this is a weak point.

First, as a citizen, I'm not afraid to be asked for my bona fides--legitimate proof that I am who I say I am. Nor was I reluctant to do this when I was the immigrant. My (now ex-) husband and I moved to Canada in early 1975 on a work visa. We were there legally...but some Americans weren't. The Vietnam War had prompted some young American men to move to Canada illegally in order to avoid the draft. My husband and I were always aware that we could be asked to provide proof that we were who we said and that we were there legally. We were always prepared to do so. When our son was born there, we made sure to get documentation of his Canadian citizenship so that if he chose to do so, he could always live in Canada. Legally.

Second, there is an evidence-based reason to inquire into the bona fides of Hispanics who may be stopped for traffic matters, arrested for crimes, etc. That evidence comes from decades of Border Patrol work showing that those who are caught crossing our border illegally from Mexico are almost always Hispanic. I gather that there have been very, very, very few Asian or Arab or African or Anglo folks caught in these situations.

But why alert to Hispanics? North Carolina is, after all, a very long way from the Mexican border. Well, as the head of the Hispanic Liason pointed out, we know that companies in NC (and elsewhere) actively advertised in Mexico for undocumented workers to come to the U.S. for jobs. We know that twenty years ago there were relatively few Hispanic people in NC, but within the last decade or so, there are suddenly mushrooming numbers--with nothing to really account for this except for coming to this state to take whatever work they can find. No wars in Mexico, so we can't attribute it to the immigration of desperate refugees, as was the case back in the 80s with Nicaragua. We know that we are suddenly having to deal with a lot more people who have minimal or no English language skills but who speak Spanish fluently.

Human beings create categories all the time--categories or "profiles" of things, events, and people that help us navigate in our world. When those categories reflect reality, they are useful. When they do not, they need to be adjusted.

We do need to take great care that we do not racially profile. But we also need to not let the fear of racial profiling prevent us from enforcing our laws--any of them. We need to educate ourselves about racial profiling and we need to base our law enforcement actions on reason and evidence. There should be a balanced approach to enforcing our immigration laws...but they should be enforced.

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