Immigration. Arizona. Illegal “aliens.”
The mere mention of these words has become an invitation to debate in recent years, especially in light of the new Arizona legislation, SB1070. Now, with Texas legislation considering similar reform, the issue has the potential to create even greater controversy.
Critics of SB1070, including President Obama, the ACLU and the NAACP, fear that it will encourage racial profiling and curtail American civil liberties.
Supporters, who include 70 percent of Arizona residents (as indicated by a Rasmussen poll), believe that the legislation is simply taking action on an issue that the federal government has not adequately addressed.
But the underlying issue is the polarization of opinion–a phenomenon encouraged by the media–that surrounds this issue has led to a convoluted portrayal of the law. Few media sources explain the facts of the legislation, instead making sweeping statements punctuated by loaded words and misleading generalizations.
It is undeniable that Arizona is contending with serious issues as a result of illegal immigration. In fact, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that undocumented immigrants commit 22 percent of all felonies in Maricopa County, Arizona. And of those arrested by the United States Border Patrol, 17 percent have existing criminal records in the United States.
Taking this information into consideration, it would be impossible to argue that Arizona is incorrect in attempting some action. Yet there is still an enormous amount of passionate and, sometimes, irrational debate surrounding the issue, and critics’ inflammation of the issue is, in large part, to blame.
This error becomes apparent almost immediately.
“[Governor] Brewer has just given every police agency in Arizona a mandate to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign, while doing nothing to address the real problems we’re facing, (ACLU),” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona.
Because such statements are common among critics, the people–regardless of their opinion on the issue–receive a skewed version of the legislation. But the law, when carried out correctly, not only exclusively prohibits racial profiling but also upholds other requirements that have been in place for years.
In fact, Governor Brewer “issued an executive order requiring the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to provide local police with additional training on what does and what does not constitute ‘reasonable suspicion,’” according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
The legislation itself thus neither encourages profiling nor strips people of their constitutional rights. It instead upholds existing laws and lends more power to law enforcement officials who may only ask for identification when stopping someone for another offense.
What we have, then, is a lack of understanding surrounding the issue. American citizens should have opinions about controversial legislation. The critics’ concerns should not be disregarded: No legislation should encourage racism, and if SB1070 is suspect, the people should examine it. However, American citizens and the American media must take the time to consider the issue rationally, and must attempt to form their opinions in careful consideration of the facts. For, as Edward R. Murrow once noted, “Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”
Young is a sophomore journalism major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.