Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”
To me, both these concepts, liberty and justice, rely on the notions of equal treatment. In American jurisprudence, that means “innocent until proven guilty.”
On Friday, Arizona’s governor signed a new immigration law that flies in the face of both America’s philosophical and legal foundations. It does so by taking a step toward governmental sanction of inequality and injustice, by enabling police to stop one group — potentially illegal immigrants (read Hispanics) — on the basis of mere suspicion.
Ignoring such a law would be dangerous to our very system of government. That is why I hope the courts quickly throw the law where it belongs — on the trash heap of bad ideas in American history.
The new law, according to my Saturday New York Times, “would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.”
Perhaps you’re wondering: What’s wrong with stopping undocumented immigrants from sneaking into the state of Arizona? Try rephrasing the question. What’s right with requiring foreign-born citizens and documented immigrants from having to carry around documentation that no one else does? What’s right with turning everyone with an Hispanic surname, or a darker complexion or a Spanish accent into a potential suspect — into someone who can be arrested simply on the basis of suspicion that they might not belong in this country? What’s right with racial profiling?
Notes The Times: “Opponents have called it an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.”
Certainly, the potential for abuse is staggering. Once one group is targeted, what’s to follow? Ethnic divisiveness is just a start. When a group of people is targeted in any country, when they can be stopped or singled out or asked to follow rules that apply to no one else, democracy begins to die.
My father was born 100 years ago in Germany. He was baptized a Lutheran, but born a Jew. His father died of a heart attack the day Hitler came to power.
In 1935, my Dad made a carefully planned escape, hiking into Czechoslovakia with several thousand dollars in his shoes, money he would use to make a start in the United States.
Among the many things he taught me was this: Always have a current, valid passport. I understood his reasoning: Once you’ve seen your birthplace dissolve in fear and hatred into totalitarianism, you realize the unthinkable can happen anywhere.
Arizona and the United States, thank goodness, remain generations and thousands of miles, physically and philosophically, from the place my father grew up. But his lesson is an important one. Any place, any government, can change, sometimes radically. It’s a lot easier to protect democracy by using its laws and Constitution when both are vibrant than to stand by and watch them get whittled away.