And… Arizona’s turning Japanese; I think it’s turning Japanese; I really think so (do do do do do do…)
So, as a resident Arizonan, I’ve of course been very interested in the debate raging across the country regarding Arizona’s shiny new illegal immigrant policy, due to go into effect in several months. This last weekend, whilst talking with the folks, they asked me what I thought about it. “I have no idea,” I said. “I don’t know enough about it to form an opinion. But knowing my general stances towards immigrants and immigration, I’m probably against it.”
Ah, how right I was.
There’s been a lot of chatter across the interwebs regarding this new law, and whether the requirements in it will necessarily create racial profiling, even though the law itself explicitly condemns profiling in forming its use. Nonetheless, I thought I’d throw in my two cents, considering that I live in Japan. Why does this matter? One of the most contentious issues of the bill, “…giv[ing] the local police broad powers to check documentation “when practicable” of anyone they reasonably suspect is an illegal immigrant,” has an even more draconian counterpart in Japan. (NYT 04/26)
Any foreigner in Japan is required to keep on them (at all times) documentation declaring themselves legal. For tourists, this means a passport with a valid visa. For legal residents, like me, this means the so-called “Gaijin Card,” something akin to a green card, I guess. I am legally required to have my gaijin card on me at all times (even if I just need to pop to the store to grab a carton of milk), and if I don’t, I am subject to any number of punitive measures.
The police have the power to ask, at any time and for any reason–real or no, to see my gaijin card. My friend Ava was once walking down the street to the grocery store (a whopping 500 feet from her house). A policeman stopped her. She didn’t have her card. He went with her back to her house to ascertain that, indeed, she wasn’t lying about it.
On the tiny little island of Iki, there are five white people. We have any number of Filipinos, Chinese, and even Korean immigrants, but only five clear foreigners. And we’re the only ones who get carded, trust me.
Now, I would call that racial profiling.
And yes, it bothers me. It bothers me a lot. The fact that a police officer can, at any time, check to see whether I’m here illegally based on my appearance alone impugns my integrity and my honesty. To anyone who doesn’t know me well, those two qualities define me as a person. I have made many mistakes in my life, and in all of them, the lesson learned was that honesty is the best god-damn policy.
And why is this law in place?
Well, because Japanese people view foreigners with suspicion. We’re purveyors of illegal drugs, sex, and violence. The rare American serviceman sexually harasses or rapes Japanese school girls. We drink too much and swear too much and are disrespectful towards our elders.
But the truth is that Japanese people do all these things, too. In fact, I’d wager that, percentage-wise, the number of crazies who do such terrible things is the same amongst foreigners as amongst Japanese. And hey, wouldn’t you guess it, in Arizona “Illegal immigrants flowed in, too, … and commit their share of crimes, though police officials have said at no greater rate than the rest of the population.” (NYT 04/26)
The truth is that Japanese people view foreigners with suspicion because we’re easy to see, not because we commit any more or less crimes than regular Japanese folks. And when you’re easy to spot in a crowd, it’s easy to find things that don’t exactly “go with the flow,” per se. Now, when you’re combining two completely different cultures like the Japanese and American psyches, then things are going to get messy sometimes.
And the truth is that, contrary to what the law’s sponsors would have you believe, illegal immigrants in America commit no more violent- and property crimes than actual citizens, it’s just it’s easier to spot them because they might look a little different, or maybe their English isn’t too good. This is important because the entire justification for this law is that illegal immigrants commit more crimes, and thus they jeopardize our safety. As far as I can tell, nothing much was said about the economic impact of illegal immigrants.
So let me finish this rant thus:
Being racially profiled against–which I am, lots–sucks. It sucks ass. While it doesn’t suck enough for me to not enjoy my life in Japan, it has done so for many others. And while I may respect individual Japanese people, my respect for the institutions that allow such things is low indeed.
Japan is a community-based society, with value judgement added to those that follow the flow of ideals, rather than skirting around them. I can see the philosophical justification for such a law in a society like Japan, even if I don’t agree with it.
On the other hand, America is an individual-based society, with an emphasis on diversity of thought and ideals, rather than believing everything that you’re told. I in no way see the justification–moral or philosophical–to enacting such a law in America. In fact, I find it frankly un-American that pretty soon, a police officer might look at my brother-in-law as he’s walking down the street, speaking Spanish into his cell phone, and think “Oh, that guy isn’t speaking English, and he looks Mexican. He might be an illegal immigrant” and then have the right to invade my brother-in-law’s privacy and freedoms to check.
More importantly, this law implies that any citizen who looks latino and maybe doesn’t speak English is less American than me. All because he or she’s not white, and that is ri-goddamn-diculous.
Think I’m overreacting? Well, try to imagine the following scenario:
You’re walking down the street, going to meet your friends at a restaurant. A cop approaches and says, “Excuse me, I need to see your identification.”
“I’m sorry, officer, was I doing something wrong? Am I not allowed to walk here?” you ask.
“No, I just don’t think you’re an American, and as such, you’re probably going to commit a crime.”*
Would you be offended? Would you maybe think a little less of the police officer, and thus the constituency that he/she represents, because of it?
Because I know I sure do.
I have lots more that I can say, but I think I’m gonna stop. I may write more tomorrow.
*Yes, I know this isn’t actually what a police officer would say. Though they might be legally required to explain why they want to see an ID. And then explain their suspicion.