I have just finished reading through the text of the law that has been enacted in Arizona targeting undocumented immigrants. I have been studying the laws of the United States and working on civil rights issues for fifteen years, but I have never seen a more appalling and dehumanizing statute in present-day America than this measure.
It is not merely that this statute declares an entire class of human beings to be inherently criminal — trespassers on all public and private land in Arizona because of their status. It is not merely that the law requires police and other law enforcement agents in Arizona to treat an entire population as presumptively criminal on the basis of their race and appearance. It is not merely that the statute effectively requires lawful immigrants to carry papers wherever they go in order to avoid arrest and detention, as if we were living in apartheid-era South Africa or half-slave / half-free pre-Civil War America.
What is yet more appalling is this: If, tomorrow, every undocumented immigrant in Arizona simply left or disappeared, the economy of that state would collapse. The purpose of this law is not to get rid of all undocumented immigrants. The purpose of this law is to disempower all brown-skinned immigrants in Arizona, turning them into a third-class group who must live in constant fear of government and are subject to arbitrary abuse and exploitation.
LGBT people know what it means to be declared by statute to be inherent criminals — to be told that we are illegal people. Transgender people know what it means to be told that their very being, dress or appearance makes them inherently suspicious and subject to arrest and detention.
We must stand up against this law, and we must do so loudly and strongly.
Tobias Barrington Wolff
Professor of Law
University of Pennsylvania Law School