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We cannot let fear defeat what’s right

The American public is angry and afraid, and understandably so.

When many of us go to bed at night, we’re not sure what mind-numbing challenges we’ll be faced with when we awake in the morning.

We’re worried about our jobs, our health and our children’s schools. We’re concerned about rising deficits and wonder if the recovery that economists say is under way is real. We cower when we read or hear news reports about another drug bust or homicide in our communities.

And we fume when it appears that our government is unable or unwilling to address, or better yet, fix the problems plaguing us.

I believe it is this level of frustration and fear that is at the heart of the Arizona law aimed at stopping illegal immigration.

After my last column was published on this topic, many readers took issue with the fact that I said it was unjust and could lead to racial discrimination.

Critics of the column countered that this new law has nothing to do with race and that it was established to stamp out crime committed by illegal immigrants. (Statistics have shown that immigrants aren’t more likely to commit crimes.)

Some readers also noted that the state’s law enforcement officials first must find that someone has committed a crime before they can ask for proof that someone is in the country legally.

I have read the law several times, and it states that law enforcement must make “any lawful” contact with a person before making a “reasonable attempt” when it’s feasible to check documentation. The law says law enforcement may not solely consider race, color, or national origin.

And yet, I don’t see how it cannot lead to profiling based on anything other than someone’s ethnic background.

Law officers only have to have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is in the U.S. illegally to ask them for proof, and that means that anyone — the Hispanic citizen and noncitizen — is suspect.

An editorial in the Arizona Republic put it this way: “This suspicion also falls on professionals, housewives, business owners, friends, neighbors, co-workers and teens walking home from school.”

And what will constitute lawful contact with law enforcement? I am not suggesting that all of those sworn to protect and serve would do this, but what is to prevent an official from stopping a person — who looks or sounds like they could be here illegally — based on some spurious reason? If you don’t think that kind of stop still happens in cities across this country, think again.

I am not the only one who has a problem with SB 1070, which the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, condemned this week and the U.S. government may challenge. Some conservatives — Karl Rove for one — have also spoken out against Arizona’s law.

Meanwhile, President Obama, who also has raised concerns about its potential for profiling, has pledged to take up comprehensive immigration reform.

I hope, for our country’s sake, that it is done sooner than later.

Let me reiterate. Illegal immigration is not something we can afford to ignore. Securing our borders is long overdue. But the Arizona law is not the correct way to go about it.

As much as we’d like a fast remedy to a problem, we must be able to step back and do what’s right. That means not putting our anger, fear and frustration ahead of recognizing the humanity of all people living and working within our borders — treating them as we would want to be treated, with dignity and respect.

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