Pew Poll: Americans Support Police-State-Like Tactics on Immigration

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has recently released a national opinion poll (done on on May 6-9, 2010) on the general public’s reactions to the Arizona immigration law (SB 1070), which makes being an undocumented immigrant traveling in or through Arizona a major crime under state law. Here is their summary and here is the full report.

The key and actual questions are these:

Q.10 The state of Arizona recently passed a law dealing with illegal immigration. As I describe some parts of the
law, tell me if you approve or disapprove of each. [The three percentages are for these responses, reading from left to right: approve, disapprove, don’t know/other]:

a. Allowing police to question anyone who
they think may be in the country illegally: 62% 35 3

b. Requiring people to produce documents verifying
their legal status if police ask for them: 73% 23 4

c. Allowing police to detain anyone who cannot
verify their legal status: 67% 29 4

On the face of it, these survey data are pretty chilling, with a very substantial majority of the general population supporting key aspects of laws like that in Arizona. On another question, 59 percent of those polled say they approve of the new Arizona law.

More than two thirds buy into the conservative argument that police have a right to act on their own subjective hunches that a person is in the country illegally. In the Southwest this means routine racial profiling, as white residents will almost never be “thought to be in the country illegally.” Indeed, as legal analyst and scholar Michelle Alexander shows in her great new book, The New Jim Crow, the not so secret “secret” of everyday practice in all major aspects of our criminal justice system is that this system routinely and demonstrably (from tons of research) operates in an well-institutionalized racist fashion, with whites with power (especially police officers, prosecutors, and judges) able to pretty much discriminate against working class Americans of color with impunity — and with the backing of numerous recent court decisions by our arch-conservative Supreme Court (perhaps our most undemocratic political institution). People of color are easily targeted when the Supreme Court and the congress back up routine discrimination in the streets. The subjective “thinking” of police and other criminal justice officials is now the criterion of “justice” when it comes to many crime policing and prosecution decisions.

The second question’s and third question’s huge positive responses might, however, have been different if the supportive respondents (especially the majority of white respondents–Pew does not give a racial breakdown) had routine experience with being mistreated or harassed by the police seeking such information–like many Americans of color. Also, I wonder how they would feel if they were taken to jail if they did not have their key documents (birth certificate?) with them, as this law requires. Apparently a driver’s license is not enough. (Have you ever gone out on the streets without key documents?)

The increasing public support of essentially police-state tactics over the last decade (notice that the large, mostly white employers are not principally targeted–the easier way to stop immigration?) is one of the chilling things about this supposedly “post-racial” America. (Related issues in some of the likely police stops out of this law seem to be the fourth amendment’s protections against government searches without specific evidence and without warrants, and the fifth amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, and its a person shall not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Have these also been nullified by the routine operation of the justice system, including recent Supreme Court decisions?) Actually, we have now quickly gone to the post-post-racial America.