Monday, May 17, 2010


This isn't a blog about immigration, it is the blog of someone who is an immigrant. However with immigration currently a major issue thanks to the recent passing of legislation in Arizona I would be remiss if I ignored the topic.

In truth I don't know fully how I feel about the Arizona decision. I recognize they have a problem and they feel this is a solution. I want to believe that caring thoughtful people have gathered all the data that is unavailable to me and have made a careful and reasoned determination that this is the best of all possible solutions. What however I fear is this is simply politicians responding to a popular bandwagon for electoral gain.

Leadership is a heavy responsibility and sometimes it is necessary to rise above the frenzied howls of the mob. Yes politicians in a democracy have a duty to listen to concerns but they also must also apply their judgement.

When politicians make rapid responses to serious problems as a result of the outrage of the masses the outcome is the worst of legislation. The UK Dangerous Dogs Act is an excellent example of this. It was created after public horror at a number of high-profile cases of children being attacked by dogs in their homes. Whilst this was horrific it was a small problem and whilst legislation was undoubtedly appropriate what happened was that it was rushed through ignoring all the highly valid concerns which were raised. Hence numerous entirely innocent and placid family pets were slaughtered as a result for no other reason than they happened to belong to a breed targeted by the act. Moreover large amounts of court time and resources were wasted with judges having to determine whether crossbreeds contained significant percentages of the banned breeds.

My fear is that the Arizona legislation falls into the same category. I am here legally and after spending many thousands of dollars and dealing with a mass of paperwork to get to the USA. I have no natural sympathy for the illegal immigrant.

Existing US legislation requires us to keep our green cards on us at all times though I did run into a slight problem with my wife refusing to let me carry the card during sex. I am not sure how Homeland Security/USCIS feels about this but the fact it is even an issue reflects how powerless we immigrants can feel. I am reasonably intelligent and erudite yet when it comes to facing up to Homeland Security I turn into a quivering lump of jello. I clearly remember watching the Tom Hanks comedy movie, Terminal, and registering fear every time the black uniforms of Homeland Security staff came on the screen. It isn't that I have been treated badly by them. In my experience they are caring and thorough professionals who do a difficult job very well but the relative difference in the power levels between them and me is terrifying. When you know someone can stop you entering the country or have you deported, it is very difficult not to feel fear. When thinking of the difference between the two power levels in the relationship I am reminded of flies and boys in the Thomas Hardy quotation.

As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport

It is not that Homeland Security toy with us in this way, but simply the terror that they could.

There is therefore already legislation in place which requires immigrants to keep and produce documentation of their status. The only thing that I can see that the Arizona legislation adds to it is the ability to challenge people based solely on suspicion of their status. It is one thing to require those who have been stopped by law enforcement on reasonable grounds of some other crime in progress to show whether or not they are in the country legally, it is another entirely to stop people because you believe they might not be.

I am an immigrant. I am white and have a degree. I am here legally but passing me on the street you wouldn't know that. I probably wouldn't raise any suspicions at all under most circumstances and that is my concern with this legislation. All "suspicion" based laws are flawed because they open up the opportunity for personal prejudices and even where this is not the case in practice, there is always the fear that it is - something which is almost impossible to disprove. Hence it leads to a feeling of distrust between some parts of society and the police. Hence such legislation is divisive. A good example of this are the Sus Laws of the UK in the 1970s which were widely blamed for causing popular unrest.

My fear is that the Arizona legislation will do the same. It is only a few months since an incident with a Harvard professor and a police officer, in which the President got involved, which arose from a perception of racial profiling. If a middle-class, highly educated and well paid black man can be so distrustful of law professionals and concerned about racial profiling, how much more intense can the fear be amongst the more vulnerable and low-paid members of society?

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