Since Arizona enacted a set of draconian immigration laws which many claim will “exacerbate racial-profiling,” much of the focus has been on the effect its implementation will have on the state’s Latino population. However, along with being home to almost two million Latinos, Arizona has the second largest total Native American population of any state. While Native American tribes possess claims to Arizona lands that date back farther than any other group, they are often racially profiled and mistaken for undocumented immigrants of Latin American descent.
Freelance journalist and investigator Sarah Reynolds forwarded Wonk Room a video interview that she obtained with one Native American who is protesting Arizona’s new law after having been racially profiled himself. Vee Newton, who identifies himself as a Native American, told Reynolds that he was stopped at a police check point in Arizona after cops let blonde-haired people in the three cars ahead of him go by:
There was three vehicles in front of me and all the [people in the] vehicles in front of me had blonde hair. And they let them go by, but they stopped me…and they pulled me over and asked me questions about what country I was from. They asked me where I was coming from and where am I going and what am I doing. The questions were stated to me in a tone that I felt was very degrading to me. So I simply stated to them that I am a native of America, I am a native to the land and I am Native American.
This new bill targets people of my color. [...] It creates racial profiling and Native American people fall under that.
Newton, who was wearing traditional Native American attire during the interview, pointed out that if he wore “something more comfortable,” he would “be pulled over easily.”
Newton is not alone in his opposition. Indian Country Today reports that “many American Indians [are] alarmed that tribal sovereignty has been violated, with the looming possibility that individual liberties will be threatened.” John Lewis, director of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona stated, “This [law] impacts all indigenous people, and the lawmakers need to know it.” Ian Record, an education manager with the Native Nations Institute, further pointed out that “It has to be greatly concerning to everyone that law-abiding citizens of those nations are likely to be pulled over.” Finally, Robert Warrior, the Osage president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, highlighted the implicit irony of the law, claiming, “It ought to go without saying that some of the people most impacted by this invidious law are descended from peoples who lived in the Sonoran Desert centuries before anyone even thought of the United States.”
It’s also worth noting that a study by the ACLU on racial profiling in Arizona found that “while African-Americans, Latinos, Native-Americans and Asian-Americans are more likely to be stopped and searched by law enforcement on suspicion of carrying contraband, whites were actually more likely to be carrying contraband.”