In Nogales, Arizona, a town near the border between Arizona and Mexico, a man named Eduardo Vega stops at a gas station to fill his car during his daily commute to Phoenix. An Arizona police officer, also a Mexican-American, approaches Vega to ask him to see his papers. Startled, Vega’s reaction prompts the officer to repeat: “May I see your papers? Did I stutter?” Vega, still in shock, replies, “No, you didn’t stutter. But why would you want to see my papers?”
In response, the officer said, “It’s cause you look like a Hispanic. It looks like you just jumped off the border. I really want to make sure that you’re not here and getting a free ride. We don’t want any wetbacks here.”
Vega, infuriated at the police officer’s belligerence, cusses out the cop and as a result, is handcuffed and taken down to the station. Only after determining he was in fact a legal resident and citizen, Vega is released.
This story, contrary to what you might believe, is not an over-dramatization of potential racial profiling but a factual event that occurred last Saturday, May 1. Eduardo Vega, an auditor and an American citizen, is the uncle of Bianca Tellez, a third-year Criminology major at UC Irvine.
Two weeks prior, on the Friday, April 23, the governor of Arizona signed into law the Arizona Senate Bill 1070. This legislation makes it a criminal offense for any illegal immigrants to be on Arizona soil without legal documentation and allows police to detain and arrest any immigrants who are under suspicion of being illegal. While this bill explicitly states that racial profiling is not allowed, many believe it is inevitable.
On May 1, a May Day protest surged through the streets of Los Angeles as thousands gathered to voice their opposition, waving American and Mexican flags to symbolize a united opposition to Arizona’s new law. Opposition against the bill is also prevalent at UCI and around Orange County.
Irene Sanchez, a resident of Santa Ana and a mother of four, said, “This law saddens me greatly. I still have families that do not have their papers, but with this kind of law, I would not even be able give them a ride to the hospital just because they do not have their documentation. But regardless, if a law like this passes in California, I will still take them to the hospital. They are my people. We should care less about the law and we should care more about human beings.”
Several UCI students who offered their opinions on the new law were against its profiling immigrations.
“I find that the bill will allow police to racially profile, especially on Hispanics. I think that police are now going to stop and question people who look Hispanic, and I do not think that is right. A lot of people have negative sentiments towards Hispanics, mostly Mexicans because they are the largest incoming immigration population,” second-year international studies major Stephanie Vizcarra said.
”It’s basically like: ‘people that are here are supposed to be here and any [people] who are coming do not belong.’ I don’t like this law. My family does not like it,” Vizcarra said. “Half my family lives across the border in Arizona, and they hate the law because they feel they are being targeted. They feel threatened, even though they are American citizens.”
“It’s not fair,” second-year business major Gabriel Carranza said. “It’s a way of putting down the Hispanic people. We live here, we work here, we contribute and it’s a slap in the face to us to have a law like this passed against us. They do not want to say, ‘Oh, we’re just stopping Mexicans.’ Instead, they word it to say that if you look anything like an illegal immigrant, than they have the right to stop you and look for documentation. I’m pretty sure they would not stop a white person, thinking he’s an illegal immigrant.”
Louis DeSipio, a Professor and Chair of the Chicano Latino Studies, emphasized the difficulty in enforcing the law without succumbing to racial profiling.
“This law is more of apolitical statement than an actual effort at law. I say that because it’s a law that is, by definition, very hard to enforce. It puts the police at a very difficult position at having to determine whether somebody is an unauthorized immigrant without racial profiling them because the way most people make an evaluation of who is unauthorized is to identify somebody who comes from an immigrant population. An immigrant that is a white European with an accent might not get too much police attention, but a Latino, regardless of his or her immigration status, might,” DeSipio said.
According to Professor DeSipio, people in Arizona, especially Latinos, will be less likely to voluntarily approach the police in order to avoid interaction. Therefore, they will less likely report crime or be compliant or cooperative to police investigations.
“This law does not go effect until 90 days after the legislature adjourn, but once it goes into effect, it would mean that people in Arizona who are thought to be illegal immigrants would be less likely to come into contact with the police and they would not be helpful. For citizens of immigrant ancestry, I think they will mobilize to encourage people to be involved in politics in order to fight laws like this,” DeSipio said.
“I think what the governor and the legislature in Arizona are trying to do is to put pressure on Washington that it needs to step up its enforcement responsibilities for immigration. It’s a very offensive and very racially charged symbolic statement,” DeSipio said.
Yet, despite this 90-day delay before the law goes into effect, there are Latino Americans who have already been affected by the bill’s racial implications. Some Arizona police officers have begun to act out on their own, disregarding the official rules and technicalities of the legislation. Fourth-year psychology and social behavior major Bianca Tellez and her family have felt the direct impacts of Arizona’s SB 1070.
“I don’t think that is the way it should be,” Tellez said, “A lot of people have their papers and they still have linguistic challenges. They still have impediments in their speech. But they’re citizens! That’s racial profiling. And the way the police officer approached my uncle was inappropriate. It just sets a really horrible image, not only on the policing system but on the law itself. What are we supposed to think about this? What are the benefits that can come from this?”
“It’s only been a few weeks, and I am sure my uncle is not the only individual that has experience this kind of negativity. It’s just not the way things should be done,” Tellez said.