Arizona law clouds Congressman Brian Bilbray’s judgment


MSNBC host Chris Matthews asked Congressman Brian Bilbray if he could offer a non ethnic aspect in which a police officer could stop someone who they suspect was in the country illegally. To which he answered: “They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there’s different types of attire, right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes.”

That left me scratching my head.

So I called him. My phone call wouldn’t be much of an inconvenience, I assumed. After all, as one of his constituents, he calls me and leaves me messages all the time letting me know about his work in Washington DC.

I almost feel like we’re friends.

I figure if he could teach me how to judge people by their clothes, maybe I would learn how to single out thieves and other ominous people. Maybe I could even tell whether a boyfriend is good fit for one of my daughters.

Bilbray was unavailable. He was probably working on a very important project, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it when he calls me with an update. But I did manage to speak with Fritz Chaleff, his communications director.

He defended his boss’ comments. He argued that the clothes people wear can reveal whether somebody is doing something illegal. He explained, for example, a gentleman wearing a suit and tie at the beach and wearing running shoes.

“Something is not right with that,” he said.

It’s funny he said that.

He obviously never met Nick Inzunza, the former mayor of National City, because that’s precisely what he wore. He wore a suit and a tie and running shoes.

Although he might be guilty of other things, such as bad taste and treating his tenants poorly, he is an American citizen. Poor Nick. I hope he doesn’t go dressed that way on his next trip to Arizona or he he’ll be sent to Mexico.

I also asked Chaleff if the congressman was at all concerned about a police officer stopping US citizens or legal permanent residents simply because of the color of their skin.

Nope. He doesn’t.

The truth is this law allows police officers to detain people not because of the clothes they’re wearing but solely on the basis of their appearance: dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. The clothes argument is just a way to negate the obvious: this law legalizes racial profiling.

The law was signed last week by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, but it won’t take effect until late July or the beginning of August, if it survives the barrage of legal affronts. The good thing about this law is that it is bringing illegal immigration back to the national consciousness. Congress might actually move on immigration reform because of it.

I’ve covered immigration for many years, and I’ve learned that it’s hard to single out illegal immigrants. I can think of several instances in which I would go to a day labor site where you would assume day laborers were illegal immigrants.

But that wasn’t the case.

I often found myself speaking to legal residents or citizens. And yes, there were some who were in the country illegally.

So I learned that it was best not assume anything when it came to illegal immigration.

In case you didn’t know, Bilbray is one of those politicians with a penchant for blaming undocumented immigrants for many social ills.

The Republican congressman rarely passes up the opportunity to remind me and my neighbors of the 50th District in San Diego County that he is working hard to fight illegal immigration.

But he outdid himself when he said on national television that it’s possible to sniff out illegal immigrants just by looking at them.

If I ever get to talk to him when he calls my home, my advice to the congressman would be to stay away from generalizing people when it comes to illegal immigration. I would tell him that I would never say that all white Republican politicians are prejudiced against Latinos. Athough I would certainly agree that some of them are.

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