Think about this. If you were pulled over by the police and asked to prove that you were a United States citizen, how would you prove it? How would you feel about the question? Would you be angry? Would you be insulted? Perhaps this seems a ridiculous scenario. If you’re white, I suppose it is. If you are a person of color, it is becoming a common experience.
On February 7th, Muhammad Ali Jr., 44, and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, the second wife of Muhammad Ali, arrived at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida airport and were detained by immigration officers, even though they had US passports. Muhammed Ali, Jr. was repeatedly asked about his name, his religion and his behavior. After several hours, he was finally released without explanation for his detention or with an apology.
Think about this. The son of one of the most famous black men in American history was racially and religiously profiled, subjected to interrogation and denied his basic civil rights. Think about that. If this is how a person of color with notoriety and power is treated, how do you think immigration officers are treating people without such a pedigree?
Last year, Senator Tim Scott, who is black, spoke from the floor of the Congress about how many times he had been pulled over by white police officers. This included one incident where Capital police denied him entry to the Congress and questioning his credentials. Senator Scott is not a liberal agitator trying to enflame racial tensions. He is a conservative Republican.
Think about that. A black United States Senator – one of the most powerful people in our nation – is no more immune to racial profiling than any other person of color. You can dress in a suit. You can carry identification, but – if a white person finds you suspicious – you can be detained. Think about this. If this is how a person of color in Congress is treated, how do you think police officers are treating people of color on the streets?
Last week, hundreds of undocumented immigrants were rounded up in raids by immigration officers. For some of these people, the officers had documentation proving they were in the US illegally. However, they also detained many people on the suspicion that they were here illegally. What was the basis of their suspicion? These people were Latino. When detained, illegal immigrants were required to prove they had been in the country for more than two years. Others were asked to provide documentation of their legal status or US citizenship.
Think about this. People of color are being asked to provide verification of something that white Americans earn simply by the color of their skin – US citizenship. Other than when reentering the United States, I have never been asked to prove my citizenship. For people of color, this is becoming a common occurrence. Think about that. The most basic of American rights – the assumption of innocence – is being denied to millions because of the color of their skin or their religious faith.
Mr. Trump has suggested his immigration policies are intended to restore law and order. Unfortunately, his policies show little respect for the rule of law, the idea that our legal system should treat all persons equally and fairly. Mr. Trump seems far more interested in “orders” that grant unrestrained power to individuals and organizations. Racial profiling, no matter what the justification, is always racist.
Eighty years ago, in another nation, a national leader began to treat those who were not white, blond haired and blue eyed with suspicion. Think about that. Adolf Hitler convinced white people to look away as he systematically reduced the civil rights of minority groups. He required Jewish people to wear a yellow star. Eventually, his policies justified far more than marginalization. They justified concentration camps and gas chambers. Think about this. Incredible evil was done in Germany under the guise of law and order.
I am certain some white people will read my last paragraph and conclude I’ve overreacted. I hope they’re right. Unfortunately, when it comes to human and civil rights, we cannot afford to underestimate the danger of their erosion. People of color already know the danger. White people, as in Germany, have the luxury of wishful thinking.
Think about this. Yesterday, a Latino friend, who has lived in the United States for over twenty years, told me, “For the first time in my life, I carry my Green Card with me at all times. I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t.” Think about that. Mr. Trump says his policies are designed to make us safer. Unfortunately, when he says “us,” he means white people. Everyone else is less safe in Trump’s America.