Commentary: Arizona's un-American immigration law

The Sacramento BeeMay 1, 2010 

Sacramento has had two Mexican American police chiefs who've served with distinction even as they looked undeniably Mexican in blue.

Albert Najera has dark skin and as a young Sacramento cop 25 years ago, he worked undercover and could look scary with his long hair and beard.

If success were solely about looks, Najera and Arturo Venegas might have never become chiefs in Sacramento.

Imagine then if they traveled to Arizona soon and appeared suspicious to cops there. "I'd have to produce my papers," Venegas said by telephone on Tuesday.

"You'd need to be able to prove that you were in this country legally or be subject to arrest."

Arizona's new immigration law is the talk of the nation, sparking a heated national debate even though it hasn't been enacted. One of the most divisive passages in the law is this:

"A law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States."

Arizona officials deny this is racial profiling, and they are right. It's ethnic profiling.

The Arizona law is a response to federal inaction over immigration largely from Mexico. Mexican immigrants stoke immigration angst in Arizona. So guess who Arizona cops are likely to be pulling over?

It won't be people with light skin and eyes.

From Sacramento, Venegas has been a leading voice in law enforcement against the Arizona law. On the day it was signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, he and other chiefs denounced it.

Venegas cites three primary reasons, all rooted in his 30 years of experience as a cop and chief.

For one, Arizona's new law is unfunded. It supposedly targets illegal immigrants but essentially makes suspects of all who look ethnic. And it does nothing to confront the reality that immigration is driven by labor supply and demand.

"As a chief, the last thing you need is to have your priorities turned upside down and be mandated to do things when you have no money to do them," Venegas said.

After the 9/11 attacks, Venegas deployed police to guard mosques to protect local Muslims. He said targeting communities of suspicion creates a greater chance of crime because it prevents relationships between cops and residents who can alert them to trouble.

He's heard the claim that legal immigrants have nothing to fear in Arizona except the occasional inconvenience.

It's an easy claim to make if you don't fit the immigrant profile.

"This singularly criminalizes who you are and not necessarily what you do," he said.

That's called un-American.

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