It is now legal to racially profile in Alabama. This week, HB58 was presented before a Federal Judge, who upheld certain provisions of the bill and blocked others. Alabama law enforcement officers will now have the right to question and detain anyone they suspect may be an undocumented immigrant.
Add this to the idea that Alabama’s immigration law is one of the toughest federally, then stir in the history of the state as a racially charged piece of geography and we have a problem.
The judge in question is U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn. Blackburn blocked several parts of the law, but let stand provisions that no other judge considering these laws so far has, including provisions that give law enforcement officers unprecedented power to act as immigration agents.
Blackburn prevented undocumented immigrants from enrolling in any type of higher education, looking for a job and even from being day laborers and no business contracts entered into by undocumented workers are enforceable.
K-12 institutions are also required to track immigration statutes of their students, even as the Supreme Court has ruled that elementary and secondary education as a constitutional right. That fear will prevent parents from sending their children to school.
However, harboring an undocumented immigrant, or giving one a ride is not illegal. The big controversy remains that she gave law enforcement agents the power to question and detain anyone who they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe may be undocumented.
Immigrant and civil rights groups have argued that this provision all but legalizes racial profiling, because it’s impossible to determine a person’s immigration status on sight alone, and any inference would rely on profiling. However, human behavior is also a part of this, and Judge Blackburn did not hear evidence to convince her that human behavior inferences would be racially motivated alone. It is a good point, but is it enough?
Here is the thing: in social psychology there is a thing called a heuristic, which basically argues that a known entity will follow similar rules. A rule of thumb if you will. This applies to faces, situations, geography and people. It is also called a stereotype when placed onto a person or a category for a group of people. We do this because we don’t want to spend the extra energy when we have already created a framework for something. This phenomenom is called cognitive misership.
We all do it. It is part of the human processing system. The problem arises when we attribute specific behaviors or the likelihood of certain behaviors onto the stereotype. The stereotype itself is not bad, it is the judgments that we make around that stereotype that can be bad. Sometimes they are good. Mostly, however, out of a desire to see ourselves as good people, and the other person as less than us, we create these stereotypes with a negative judgment.
When asked, most anyone will tell you that they are not in fact racially stereotyping, instead they are going with what their “experience tells them.” And sadly, this is also what informs their racism. We can’t prove what they are doing is profiling or racist.
This is the problem. Both legally and in the human world.
At the time of this writing, the coalition of civil rights groups, including ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, has filed an emergency request with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to block provisions Judge Blackburn failed to enjoin from going into effect while her decision is appealed.
Photo Credit: LWPrincipe