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Kevin Buck: Your papers, por favor

Posted: May 17, 2010 9:06 p.m.
Updated: May 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Last Christmas, my wife and I spent nine wonderful days exploring Arizona. We went with only one predetermined destination - Kartchner Caverns State Park. The rest of our time in Arizona was spent exploring the many diverse and wondrous attractions the state has to offer.

From Tombstone and the ghost towns in the south, to the red-rock splendor of Sedona and the magnificence of the Grand Canyon, we were never disappointed - not this year, nor on any of the other trips we have taken to explore Arizona over the last 30 years.

Now I fear that a return to Arizona and its grandeur may not be in my future, thanks to Senate Bill 1070, their new anti-illegal-immigrant law. This law, which will go into effect this summer, makes it a crime to be in the state illegally and it requires law enforcement officers to question anyone about their immigration status if they suspect them of being here illegally.

The authors of this bill say that it will not encourage racial profiling, but human nature being what it is, I do not see how it can be enforced without profiling. That is where it gets personal, and how I would run afoul of this law.

I have been told that I look very Canadian. I have no reason to doubt this assessment of my ethnicity; an ethnic Canadian appearance is just a byproduct of the North American melting pot.

Given the lax enforcement of the Canadian border and the absence of any sort of walls, barbed-wire fences or other physical deterrents to illegal entry into this country, all Canadians will be suspects in Arizona.

Indeed, on our nine-day foray through Arizona last winter, we found the RV parks, campgrounds and state parks to be full of Canadian "snowbirds." The campground host at Dead Horse Ranch State Park admitted to being Canadian, and has spent the last 15 winters at the park - a fairweather immigrant returning to his homeland every spring. I did not think to question his legality, but in the future, park rangers will have to. Is there even such a thing as a four-month "It's too cold at home" visa?

My dilemma is even more complicated because even though both my parents were American citizens, they were inconsiderate enough to marry and produce their first- and second-born children in Venezuela, where my father worked in the oil fields. Venezuela does not recognize dual citizenship, and my birth certificate is in Spanish, so it would not be a helpful document in Arizona. I had a hard enough time enrolling in little league with it; I stand no chance of passing muster with Arizona's law enforcement.

In fact, I don't carry any documentation of my American citizenship with me on a daily basis. I would wager that the majority of people reading this right now will walk out of the house today with no citizenship papers good enough to keep you out of an Arizona jail.

I don't worry so much about racial profiling; that is human nature and all of us do it to a certain extent. Police and other sworn law enforcement officers, who risk their lives to protect ours, have an even bigger stake, consciously or unconsciously. They must profile everyone they encounter as a threat or nonthreat for their own protection. I get that.

The real problem is that since the law applies to everyone, any person who cannot prove their citizenship can be detained and searched by any Arizona law enforcement agency, not just the ones who look "Mexican" - in fact, the law demands that they must, or face lawsuits for non-compliance.

Immigration reform is badly needed and it is the federal government's responsibility to secure our borders. Every president since Ronald Reagan has attempted to address this issue, but it has been, and still is, a political nightmare, subject to demagoguery, grandstanding and cynical manipulation of angry constituents.

The gutless wonders in Washington will never address this in an election year, and since American politics is now a perpetual campaign, they probably never will in any meaningful form.

Bad state laws like Arizona's, and the courts striking them down, may be the only action we see on this in the near future. Legal or illegal, everyone loses.

Kevin Buck is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" runs Tuesday in The Signal and rotates among several SCV Democrats.


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