Sign of the times

Imagine you’re walking the streets of Tucson a few months from now. Under the terms of Arizona’s new immigration law, any police officer with “reasonable suspicion” that you might be in the country illegally will be able to stop you and ask for your immigration documents.

Whatever that “reasonable suspicion” might be, does anyone suppose it will be applied to, say, Canadian citizens visiting Arizona? Of course not. It will be applied to Spanish-speaking people with brown skin, of which there are about a half million in Arizona, most of them legal residents. Lacking identification, those legal residents could be subject to incarceration. That’s the very definition of racial profiling—and uncomfortably reminiscent of police-state tactics.

Arizona’s frustration with federal efforts to control illegal immigration is understandable. But this bill goes way overboard by turning local police into surrogates for federal immigration agents.

President Barack Obama has lambasted Arizona’s bill as failing to deal with the core issues presented by illegal immigration and said it’s a “wake-up call” for the United States government to act, lest the country become a patchwork of inconsistent state laws created in the void of federal inaction.

He’s right, but that doesn’t mean anything will happen. Congress is so polarized on this issue that comprehensive reform seems unlikely any time soon. Arizona’s bill is a dangerous sign of the times.