“Those Pants Make You Look Illegal” – A Win for Intolerance in Arizona

Statue of Liberty holding a stop sign

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer sure knows how to dial back the pace of progress.  Today, Brewer signed into law a bill that will allow police to demand legal status papers from anyone they think gives off an illegal immigrant vibe.  Challenged by Chris Matthews on Hardball last night to provide one non-ethnic clue that law enforcement would pick up on to round up illegals, Rep Brian Billbray (R-CA) said, “They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there’s different type of attire, there’s different type of — right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.” 

So if you live in Arizona, your dressing rituals will have to allow for more than color coordination and avoiding your fat pants: You will also need  to gauge just how illegal you look before you walk out the door.  Like two dudes at the movies with an obligatory “I’m not gay” seat between them, who knows the lengths people will go to not look border-hopperish?

It is hard to decide what is more crazy-making: the fact that backers of the law are so prejudiced that they think you can identify undocumented individuals walking down the street based on clothing or vague hunches, or the fact that these fearmongering xenophobes have the naivety to argue that this isn’t going to turn into legally-sanctioned racial profiling.  Brewer claims that she won’t tolerate anything of the sort as, simultaneously, she stokes the fears of Arizonians in a shameless mid-battle re-election bid.

Even President Obama himself has tried to stop this legislation being voted into law.  He deemed the Arizona moves “misguided” and stated that they “threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”  Obama has ordered his legal team to examine the legality of the decision in Arizona and said that there must be national immigration reform or we would allow for more “irresponsibility by others.”

In classic conservative “us and them” prattle, the bill’s Republican sponsor, state Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, said that Obama and other critics of the bill were “against law enforcement, our citizens and the rule of law.”  He claimed that the new legislation would remove the “political handcuffs” on police.  “Illegal is illegal,” said Pearce, “We’ll have less crime. We’ll have lower taxes. We’ll have safer neighborhoods. We’ll have shorter lines in the emergency rooms. We’ll have smaller classrooms.” Why didn’t he just continue? We’ll have less shady brown people.  We’ll have cleaner accents.  We’ll talk to our neighbors again.

This has been a sad day for civil rights.  Let’s push for immigration reform before we are all Arizonians.



Bjorn Karlman

32 thoughts on ““Those Pants Make You Look Illegal” – A Win for Intolerance in Arizona”

  1. People who don’t live in AZ have a hard time understanding this issue. The feds have just not done enough to do their job. If the feds won’t do it, we have to. It is chaos down here.

    70% of Arizona supports the law, including a majority of Democrats.


    There is a distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Immigration is not a race. My understanding is that it is a direct copy of federal law specifically so it won’t violate current law/the constitution. If that isn’t the case, then it may be overturned, in which case, no one has anything to worry about.

  2. Well in Phoenix one time I was asked to have my docs when I was going TO MEXICO… Then some older people that were on their way back to their land were treated like criminals and they were thrown to the wall and handcuffed right in front of their kids and grand kids… It was the most inhumane thing I have ever seen an immigration officer do… All I gotta say is that now I have to carry every single letter that Immigration has given me just in case they stop me at the super market… On the other hand… David you know this, where are the policemen when those druggies come around my mom’s house? Are they kicking out the illegals or are they fighting crime. If they focused on doing that only to people who commit crimes I’m all down but not to people who are randomly at a bus station.. Funny how the immigration officers didn’t handcuff my mom and her husband who by the way both refused to show any document.. perhaps we were dressed up to code so they just took everyone else around us…now we must follow the protocol…English only, look gringo and carry your docs(which I hate because I’m afraid of losing or get them stolen). I say that first get rid of the Gangsters, Drunk Drivers,Drug Dealers and any other person who commits a crime before getting rid of illegals who are not directly killing you, once you tackle that then look unto whatever else….

  3. racial profiling is a big problem in this country. I can remember a few years back when the Rep. from Hawaii, an asian-american, was asked by security for his passport. If anyone studies up on this, such action has to do with over a hundred years of exclusionary laws set against Asian naturalization and immigration. I can see how this law will have similar results. We need to look at the bigger picture and I give props to the president for calling this spade a spade and for getting to the heart of the issue: immigration reform. Perhaps if the process did not cost over 2,000 dollars, then illegal immigration would not be so prevalent. It is such a confusing process that, if you don’t of patience and ability to understand legal jargon, makes it almost necessary to seek an attorney’s assistance, which would only add to the cost. But again, i am sure it is just a way to weed out those who our society has deemed “undesirable.”

    Go to this website and you can see what I mean. Find a few forms that are over 800 dollars and see what other forms need to go with it. The price tag goes up and up.

  4. I get what you are saying, but there are violent crimes and non-violent crimes. We can, and do, enforce both.

    I think the key here is to remember that racial profiling is against the law. If racial profiling happened before or after this law, it is illegal either way. This law does not create any new laws. It just makes federal crimes state crimes so that state and local law enforcement have less red tape to cut through. I really don’t think it is a big deal at all. There is no one who wasn’t breaking the law before today that is breaking the law today.

    Also, don’t forget, there are plenty of Hispanics who are cops. PLENTY. Half the cops I have come into personal contact with in Phoenix are Hispanic. If there are policies that are out of line, we will find out about it.

    Every country has immigration laws, and every country enforces them. For people to act like America is some how racist for simply doing what every other country does…well frankly…it is mentally retarded (really it is disingenuous) and I am NOT falling for it. Unless you live here, you don’t pay the costs we pay and have no right to tell us what laws we can and cannot enforce.

  5. I agree with the legal plight of millions of Americans who suffer from the inflow is of immigrants. BUT there’s even greater immigration issue that goes unmentioned!

    Hundreds of thousands immigrants cross over yearly to beg for bread in the local ponds and rivers, and to consume our country’s precious resources, while making life uncomfortable for other legal pond inhabitants of the US. I’m, of course, talking about geese. I think we should round them up and ship ‘em back to Canada, or wherever they came from. Or, make them pay a tribute to us in form of a $2200 fee to our lawyers, and another $1500 fee to the government. Of course, that would not guarantee them entry, but simply would allow for request processing. Those whose applications get rejected because of a typo would have to start over.

    Now, if one of these geese would lay an egg, that egg would be allowed to stay, ironically. The egg is ours, but geese should all go home.

    Well, at least I don’t have to blame PETA solely for giving preference to animals rights over human ones.

  6. David,

    Have you ever considered what it would be like to see your family starving while one of the wealthiest countries in the world is a few miles away? What would you do? Would you respect the law, and try to come up with couple thousand dollars in lawyer fees? Which poor people have that money, honestly?

    My BIGGEST PROBLEM with immigration argument is the dehumanization factor of it. This argument states that these people have no value, so we don’t want them… unless they pass through a set of checks that were precisely made to keep such people out by means of financial and education imposition.

    You know what I’d do if I were a father in such condition? Exactly what these father do. I’d jump right over that fence and try to find better life by searching for some work. In US I could make in a week more than I would make in Mexico in a couple of months.

    And if some people would call me “illegal”, I’d explain to them the unfortunate reality that this world revolves around and that they were lucky enough not to be born into… you know … people like you and any of those talking heads on FOX news. People who did not starve a day in their lives. Who were born into opportunities galore, and who choose to criticize and shut out and deny such opportunities to other people.

    Then I’d tell these people to F-off, and go about my goals of making a better future for my family. If they’d deport me… I’d jump right over these fence and kept going.

    What would you do, David?

  7. “The survey found 53 percent of voters are worried that immigrants’ civil rights could be infringed in the effort to find and deport illegal immigrants. Forty-six percent were not concerned about that possibility.” David I think the civil rights issue is the crux of all of this. Not just those of immigrants but those of American citizens as well.

    I agree that snap judgments from outside AZ are going to be limited in their understanding of the situation on the ground but your point about immigration not being a race doesn’t work in reality. We all know that those targeted by this legislation will inevitably end up being those that look Mexican. This is a huge mess and it is about to blow up.

  8. Azar, as a non-US citizen I no longer want to visit Arizona. I feel nervous enough going through immigration in CA with the legal papers it cost thousands of dollars to file. You are right to point out that we cannot shift the emphasis of law enforcement’s efforts away from fighting dangerous crime. And the blow to human dignity that all this represents is huge.

  9. David, time will be the real judge but any law that allows police to demand status papers simply because someone LOOKS different is at the very least misguided and a really troubling step in direction of racial profiling and gross abuses:

    Why don’t we just go with these suggestions: “Asking someone to carry around papers is cruel and unusual. How are people expected to not forget or misplace them? A much more humane and efficient policy would be requiring people to wear arm bands stating their immigration status. There could be different symbols for different statuses. For example, a star could symbolize U.S. born, a triangle could symbolize naturalized citizen. Of course this is no guarantee either as arm labels can fall off or get lost too. So if needs me, we can consider some kind of permanent branding. Perhaps a numbers system that indicates a person’s origins?” http://www.ktradionetwork.com/2010/04/21/arizona-voters-support-controversial-immigration-bill/

    As for other countries, immigration laws are all over the map in terms of how intrusive they are and how harshly they are enforced so justifying Arizona’s actions by looking at other countries is not going to get you a lot of legit mileage.

    And what do you make of Pierce’s links to white supremacists? http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/related/to/Russell+Pearce

  10. Yeah, so far I think my company has spent about $10K keeping me in the country legally. Immigration reform is needed badly. Not just to deal with illegal immigration but also to address the heinous alternative

  11. THAT’S what I need, an anchor egg so I can get these pesky immigration officers off my back. That way I can go back to Sweden and hopefully get claimed back eventually.

    On a serious note, you would not BELIEVE how paranoid US immigration law has made me. The last time I went for papers at the American consulate in Vancouver, I had so many papers the immigration officer asked me if I had come to defend my dissertation.

  12. Well, I think I see merit in what both of you are saying. Andrey, I completely understand what you are saying from a human dignity standpoint. But David is right to insist on a legal structure by which we should operate. The problem is that it is really broken and, as you correctly point out, VERY expensive. I got lucky and had a company sponsor me but the first year or two out of college were really angst-ridden…

  13. If people against illegal immigration are racist against Hispanics since most illegal immigrants are Hispanic, are people who are in favor of taxing the rich racist against whites since most rich people are white?

  14. Mexico is a relatively rich country compared to most. When my family came here, they came from places much worse than Mexico (Philippines and Ukraine early 20th century) is today and they followed the law. That is what my family did and that is what I expect others to do.

  15. The law doesn’t say that you can demand papers because someone looks different. That is what some jackass from California said..which I really don’t understand why you decided to quote him since he had nothing to do with this law. When I get pulled over, I have to provide information that says I am legally allowed to drive. I don’t think this less should be expected from people who want the privilege to be here. There are millions of people going through the red tape. Why should Mexicans have an easier time coming here than people from Asia or Africa (both of which are much poorer than most places south of the the US border)?

    And I am obviously against any racist organizations and wouldn’t vote for anyone with any links to them.


  16. Edit…shouldn’t have said rich, but not really all that poor either. People that come here pay just as much money to the human smugglers to get them into the US. It isn’t a money problem at all.

  17. Me too… I am not even American and I worked hard to come here legally and I want people to do the same. But that does NOT mean that I think you can go around randomly arresting people on a whim. That is a police state and is ridiculous. NOT the America I idealized.

  18. People that come here illegally are likely spending all they’ve got and are DEFINITELY risking their lives… no song and dance.

  19. What’s wrong with La Raza? The law allows the police to question someone on the hunch they are illegal. Obviously this will be largely based on aesthetics.
    And you get pulled over for a driving infraction. This ridiculous law means questioning for giving off an illegal vibe.

  20. Okay. If the premise is incorrect for you that is a great thing. Many agree with the premise though.

  21. Do you ever watch any cop shows? They always question people for giving off illegal vibes. They even pull people over for giving an illegal vibe. In fact, I have been pulled over several times for illegal vibes. It is certainly annoying, but that’s the job of a cop. The best part is, since I wasn’t doing anything illegal, they let me go every time without a ticket.

    As for La Raza, I have heard people openly admit who support La Raza that if a white equivalent existed, it would be considered a racist group. Just take everything they say and stand for and replace Hispanic with white and tell me whether or not it is racist…and if you hold races to a different standard and say it is different for Hispanics to have race based political groups than whites…then I am afraid you might also be a racist. And before you mention the tea party, I have been at two, and the only mention of race at either one was from black people there joking that they must be racists for being there. I have seen what La Raza talks about at their events. Race, race, race. That is all that matters to them.

  22. I hate to say it, but America is already a police state in my opinion. There is a lot we should/could do to stop that, but I really think this can be done within the normal perimeters of police work. Again, if rights are violated, the ambulance chasers will find out about it and find a way to make money off of it.

  23. I do also have to say, that is what almost everyone says on this issue. “I oppose illegal immigration.” However, they are never willing to do anything about it. Everything goes too far in their minds. You can’t support laws without supporting some sort of enforcement. Arizona has passed a TON of bills to try and enforce immigration laws. Really, none of them work. On paper they are great laws (including one that shuts down businesses for hiring illegals), but without the feds doing something, it is really impossible for them to do anything too effective. I think this is just a series of measures trying to get the feds to do something. It might actually work because Obama has said they will do something. We will see if they get anything done. However, just legalizing something that was illegal doesn’t really solve the problem and if that is the route the president takes (amnesty) it really won’t help the situation down here.

  24. Definitely true. I think that is a great thing too in the sense that it should give us perspective. No matter how negative we get about America, there are still people willing to die to get here from places that really aren’t that bad (not North Korea or Somalia). However, illegal immigration has the same effects on our job market as outsourcing. We cannot legally stop outsourcing, but we can stop illegal immigration and should for several reasons. If nothing else, the working poor in America…which by the way, is probably the main reason behind most countries have immigration laws…

  25. I agree that (and I am delighted that you do too) that immigration reform needs to happen on a federal level. Very progressive of you:)

  26. The comment thread is running out here. I absolutely agree that we have got to appreciate the lengths people will go to in order to live here. I’ve wanted to live here for as long as I can remember.

    But I don’t think the working poor in America are willing to do some of the jobs that illegal immigrants do so the undocumented population cannot be written off for that reason.

    I was just looking at WhiteHouse.gov to look work out Obama’s view on what to do with the undocumented that are already here – a little vague I thought:

    “Bring People Out of the Shadows

    President Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.”

  27. I think you have a fair point RE race-based rhetoric. My question about La Raza was partly just to get some info. From the limited reading up I’ve done, it looks like what they stand for officially is pretty basic and uncontroversial – reducing poverty and discrimination, improving opportunities for Hispanics, etc. It looks like some of the groups they have or have previously had ties too, are shady and questionable. The motto the motto “Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada” bothers me but appears to bother them too and they reject the idea that they have ever claimed it as speaking for them.

    My personal view is that the emphasis should be, as much as possible on Latin culture and community as opposed to race. There really is no Latin race per se and I have no conflict with their stated goals, just like have no problem with other cultural groups that advocate for better lives for member of their groups – Swedish, Jewish, Italian, Filipino, etc.

  28. Another note on La Raza – just talked to a Latino friend and he says that he does not get involved with La Raza because he feels their concerns are too narrow. The possible links with MEChA, the reactionary rhetoric, the very name “La Raza” (there is no Latin race!!) – these are all difficult to fully accept.

    On the other hand, while I don’t think there should be hierarchy of rights based on ethnicity/culture, I do support groups that advocate for the rights of a minority in a system that still favors the rights and prosperity of the majority.

  29. All the bickering and ranting aside, Arizona’s new law is unconstitutional and violates federal law for many reasons beyond it’s potential for racial profiling. The courts will overturn it before it ever sees the light of day. And the crafters of the law know it. But appealing to conservative voters’ fear of foreigners is a great political strategy ahead of the mid-term elections. Even McCain who not too long ago collaborated with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform that included legalization has had to support this illegal law publicly or risk loosing in the mid-term elections. Just politics as usual.

  30. Have you ever watched the show dirty jobs on Discovery Channel? American’s do a majority of every job in the United States…including the dirty ones. There is no job that is done by majority illegal immigrants. It is all about pay. Even if it was true that American’s won’t do some jobs…how would turning illegals into American’s fix that problem? Then we would just need more non-Americans to do the job again.

  31. And just in closing here because we are all over the place…

    I think we already have set ideas about how many immigrants we should have, where they should come from, etc. Those ideas are reflected in our current laws. If we decide we need a different policy of some sort, then we should change the law to reflect that. However, we haven’t changed the law, and until we do, people from other countries shouldn’t pretend they have more of a right to set our policies than we do…which is basically what they do when they decide to circumvent the law. Because of that, I just really don’t feel bad when people get deported. They decided to break the law. That is cause and effect. It just does not have anything to do with hate or xenophobia.

    And to respond to the other post…I think immigration reform is needed and obviously it has to come at the federal level. However, I am pretty sure I will disagree with any reform that comes out of Washington. We have a science deficit in the US, not an uneducated laborer deficit. I am a big advocate on Asian immigration. It is not out of hate for the rest of the world, but our population is already 12% black and Hispanics just became the biggest minority. Asians are not only underrepresented in the US population, but they also have a much better transition into America than other groups of people. They make more money, are less likely to go to prison, and more likely to get a college degree than any other group including white people. It is so obvious that that is the direction our immigration policy should move in that you would have to think the US government will figure out a way to do the exact opposite.

    So yeah, it is no doubt the responsibility of the feds. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, but when they aren’t doing it, I think we have a right to enforce the laws…not change them obviously. Just like if the feds stopped enforcing kidnapping laws…it would be absurd for the state to not pass its own laws on the subject so that something could be done to stop it.

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