News / Asia

America's Asian Community Joins Debate Over Arizona's Immigration Law

David Dyar

Although a federal judge has blocked implementation of its most controversial provisions, the enactment of a new immigration law in the US state of Arizona has led to a furious debate over what some are calling the possible profiling of certain groups of people. Arizona's governor says she will appeal the judge's ruling blocking the part of the legislation ordering law enforcement officials to ask for proof of citizenship or legal residence from anyone they stop, if they have reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally. Some say the law would put an unfair spotlight not only on those from south of the US border, but on those from the Far East.

Joe Arpaio is the chief law enforcement officer in Maricopa County Arizona, which encompasses its largest city Phoenix. "Well, since we're close to the border , naturally we do have an influx of people from Latin America, Mexico, coming across the border specifically through Arizona. We do not have many from Asia, although I can recall recently that we arrested five from China. They came through maybe Cuba but ended up in Mexico City , came across our border, came through Maricopa County and we arrested them," he said.

"I am opposed to the Arizona law and I think that the Asian population should be concerned as well. As many listeners may know, one of the many criticisms of the law has been that Arizona police officers will be singling out Hispanic or Latino looking individuals and they are claiming that they're not gonna do that.  In my opinion, in order to prove that they're not gonna do that, they're gonna be looking for other people that fit the profile of immigrants. And to be quite honest with you, Asians are the next in line," said Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco in California and an Asian American who was born in Arizona and still has family there.

Dr. Karen Leong, who is a professor of Asian Pacific American studies at Arizona State University, which is in Maricopa County, says other laws already in effect have led to a number of Asians being questioned by police. "We already have reports in Maricopa County where law enforcement has been authorized to participate in some of the federal enforcement where persons of Asian descent have been stopped and asked for their citizenship status and they have been legal US citizens," she said.

A recent poll shows most Americans supporting the Arizona immigration law.  Dr Leong says there is a reason for that. "There is an issue where we need immigration reform; I don't think anyone is questioning that. But the laws that are passed do not actually address structural reforms that are needed for immigration reform. They actually address easy targets, in this case people of color, people with brown skin who seem to not fit what people think Americans look like," she said.

So what should people in Asia do if they plan a visit to Arizona? Maricopa Sherriff Arpaio says "just come on over. Make sure you have your proper documentation. There's nothing to worry about. We're not going to go into a Chinese restaurant or on a corner and start asking people for their papers because they look like they may be from another foreign country. However, if there is a contact made with law enforcement pursuant to us enforcing the laws, the state laws, then we will ask for identification and try to develop whether they are here illegally without that proper documentation," he said.

Leong disagrees. "I would recommend they do not come. Partially because this law is violating people's civil rights and partially because as people of Asian descent, they will be asked for their identification unless they're with a recognized tour. In that case they may not. But otherwise, if they're just renting their own cars, there is a good likelihood they could be questioned," she said.

Although there is support for the new law, Arizona is facing opposition from within the United States. The city of Los Angeles has banned most official travel to neighboring Arizona along with future contracts with the state.

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