Yesterday on MSNBC’s Hardball, host Chris Matthews asked Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) to give a “non-ethnic” example of how Arizona cops will be able to identify undocumented immigrants once the state’s controversial “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” is signed into law. Bilbray, who supports the bill, confidently offered an array of criteria, ranging from “shoes” to “behavior things”:
MATTHEWS: Like what, like what? Give me a non-ethnic aspect that would tell you to pick up somebody.
BILBRAY: They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there’s different type of attire, there’s different type of…right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes. But mostly by behavior it’s mostly behavior, just as the law enforcement people here in Washington, DC does it based on certain criminal activity there is behavior things that professionals are trained in across the board and this group shouldn’t be exempt from those observations as much as anybody else.
Bilbray’s comments illustrate exactly what civil rights activists fear will happen. The bill allows warrantless arrests of anyone who raises “reasonable suspicion” about his or her immigration status. Critics charge that it essentially legalizes racial profiling. Yet Bilbray also unintentionally raises the point that the bill will allow police to go after anyone based on the abstract notion that undocumented immigrants dress differently than legal residents. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has already put the vague principle into practice, having noted in the past that his officers use “the speech, the clothes, the environment, the erratic behavior” of a “suspect” to determine if they’re “illegal.” Arpaio also has 2,700 lawsuits collecting dust on his desk and is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice following racial-profiling and discrimination complaints against his office.
Bilbray heads the House Immigration Reform Caucus (HIRC), a group of (mostly Republican) representatives founded by former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) with the mission of stopping “the explosive growth in illegal immigration,” “reversing the growth in legal immigration,” and halting “amnesties.” Before being elected to office, Bilbray was paid $300,000 by the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) to serve as a lobbyist for them on the Hill, according to Alternet’s Joshua Holland. Bilbray’s mother emigrated from Australia to the U.S. He’s conveniently “carved out exceptions” that would apply to him and his family in all the bills he’s written and backed.