When a U.S. District Court judge rejected claims that the “show me your papers” section of Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law discriminated against Latinos, DeeDee Garcia Blase’s first thought was: “What the heck just happened? This state clearly has a racial-profiling problem!”
Her second: “We have to prove it!”
Now, Blase, co-founder of Somos Independent, is rallying Latino activists to push for legislation requiring police to track the race, ethnicity, age, and gender of everyone they stop, detain, or arrest.
“We want data,” Blase says. “We want statistics. We want to hold the Phoenix Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s [Office], all the local law enforcement agencies accountable.”
State Senator Catherine Miranda (D-Phoenix) tells New Times she intends to introduce an anti-racial-profiling bill during the next state legislative session based on similar laws in Nebraska and Montana.
“We’re still very much in the beginning stages, but this is an important issue that needs to be addressed,” she says, adding that the U.S. District Court ruling last week on state Senate Bill 1070 heightened fear in the Latino community.
Without statistics, Miranda says, proving law enforcement is unfairly targeting minorities is difficult to prove. It took more than seven years of litigation, for example, to nail Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio for detaining Latino drivers with no probable cause during his office's infamous immigration patrols.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton justified her SB 1070 ruling by stating that immigrant rights activists failed to demonstrate that officers enforcing the law — which requires them to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if there is reasonable suspicion to believe they are “unlawfully present” in the country — would approach the situation “differently for Latinos than a similarly situated person[s] of another race or ethnicity.”
Miranda says, “The judge’s hands were tied because Arizona doesn’t have [an anti-racial-profiling] law.”
Many Latinos say racial profiling has become a fact of life in Arizona.
Richard Gallego, a 62-year-old retired landscape architect who lives in South Phoenix, says he twice has been pulled over on the highway and asked, “Are you a wetback?” On numerous other occasions, while traveling from Arizona to other states, Gallego, who is of Mexican descent, says he has been detained for hours at internal immigration checkpoints.
“I’m a U.S. citizen,” he says. “If the law tells you to ask me for my immigration status, that should go for everyone — not just Latinos. But these laws are only for Latinos. Nobody’s talking about Turkish, Japanese, Indian, or Canadian illegal immigrants.”
Blase says she wants to “send a message to white politicians” that Latinos are ‘”not going to sit here and take it.”
“We are going to fight laws with laws,” she says.