Why we should care about Arizona

Originally posted on the Washington Blade

A week ago, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which in essence legalizes racial profiling.

The first section of the bill explains that it is intended to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.” The next section authorizes state and local law enforcement officials who have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is “unlawfully present in the United States” to “determine the immigration status of the person.”

No one will argue that our immigration system needs a major overhaul. But can someone please explain “reasonable suspicion” to me? What does an illegal alien look like? Is it the clothes? The work they take? Let’s be blunt. Will state and local police even suspect a white person?

But why should we care?

Aside from my expectation that people who belong to a discriminated group ought to have some empathy and compassion for another marginalized group, many of us are of color or have partners and spouses who are Latinos, Asians, Africans, Middle Easterners — people who look and sound “different.”

LGBT Arizonans of color — native born and naturalized American citizens, legal permanent residents, professionals with work visas, international students, and yes, undocumented people — will be negatively affected by this anachronistic and incomprehensible law. Mixed race couples will shoulder another burden on top of the lack of basic civil rights and protections.

Once the law goes into effect, non-white LGBT Arizonans will need to carry with them documents proving their right to be in the state. They will live with the fear and anxiety that they could be stopped, possibly detained, just because a law enforcement official has “reasonable suspicion.” Just because of how they look. Their partners, spouses and children will wonder if their loved ones will come home at the end of the day.

And there are already copycat bills contemplated in other states: Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. LGBT people and families could also be impacted in these states.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon was right in condemning Arizona’s draconian immigration law and warning that it “opens the door to intolerance, hate, discrimination.” Some people are likening Arizona to Nazi Germany, where people who looked Jewish were routinely stopped and asked for their papers. While I think the comparison is rather extreme, it effectively makes the point that SB 1070 — and the accompanying racial profiling — is simply wrong. The analogy speaks to the dangers of state-sanctioned racism.

This is the proverbial slippery slope that can lead to the discrimination of other minority groups, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. The new law makes it okay to single out a group and to treat them horribly and unfairly.

At the national march for immigration reform last month, a gay man told me that he had second thoughts about attending the demonstration. He made it very clear that he was there only to protest the treatment of binational LGBT couples. He did not want anyone to think for a second that he supported all these “illegals.”

Well, buddy, guess what? To many people, we who are immigrants and LGBT all look alike. And they’d be very happy to be rid of us.

You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.


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