CEPEDA: Looks can deceive

Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

CHICAGO -- I recently ran across a delightful campaign-style button that read: "I could be illegal."

And it's true -- I could be.

Let's let this hang for a moment as I describe a few of the guidelines discussed in a training video that was prepared for Arizona law enforcement. The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board created it in July 2010 as the state prepared to put its controversial "papers please" legislation into effect.

The video went back into play Tuesday when Gov. Jan Brewer asked all Arizona police to watch it again in advance of a Supreme Court ruling, expected sometime this month, determining whether law enforcement can question people's immigration status under reasonable suspicion.

Keep in mind that Brewer had insisted that the training materials needed to "make clear that an individual's race, color or national origin alone cannot be grounds for reasonable suspicion to believe any law is violated."

But after reading some of the pointers from the training video, you might say that the business of picking out illegal immigrants without racially profiling all citizens is anything but clear. In fact, it leaves such activity in the company of an obscenity -- "I know it when I see it."

So let's explore the red flags by assuming it's me getting pulled over by a law enforcement professional just doing his best to uphold the law with the very limited information at hand during a police stop.

"Lack of identification." Gosh, wouldn't it stink if I got pulled over on the day I'd left my purse at home while driving the half-mile down to the Redbox to return my about-to-be-overdue DVD?

"Possession of foreign identification or foreign vehicle registration." I'm in the clear on this one. Though as the past owner of a sparkly blue 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, I can say with authority that some cars just scream "Hispanic!" -- and therefore, by default, "suspicious" -- to law enforcement officers.

"Flight and/or preparation for flight, engaging in evasive maneuvers in vehicle, on foot, etc." Hey, I'm a busy journalist and mom -- if I'm in the car at all, I'm in flight mode, desperately trying to not be late for an interview or pick up a kid. And I'm evasive in my community all the time, too. People flag me down -- at the grocery store, the gas station, the car wash -- and I try to flee them before they ask me to write columns about their pet projects.

"Voluntary statements by the person regarding his or her citizenship or unlawful presence." This one reeks of entrapment -- what brown-skinned person residing in an illegal-immigrant-hunting state wouldn't blurt out "I'm a U.S. citizen" if he or she perceived that they were being singled out by police for that very reason?

"Vehicle is overcrowded or rides heavily, passengers in vehicle attempt to hide or avoid detection." Again, as a mom who regularly ferries packs of young men to the skate park, overcrowded cars filled with teens who aren't good at looking someone in the eyes or answering simple questions under pressure ("Demeanor -- unexplained nervousness, erratic behavior, refusal to make eye contact"), this one could really trip me up.

"Location, including, for example: A place where unlawfully present aliens are known to congregate looking for work." I'd better just stay away from the parking lot of the Home Depot.

Here's my favorite: "Dress." I could raise suspicion if I took a break from my gardening and gave my abuelita a ride to Wal-Mart. If I was wearing my big straw hat and old "Hecho en Mexico" T-shirt and my grandmother was in her knit shawl, black skirt, ankle socks and low-heeled pumps, our clothes would scream "we don't belong here."

And "belonging" is what it's all about, isn't? For those salivating to have the Arizona legislation upheld by the court, if the line between Hispanic and illegal immigrant is blurred, well, that's something they're prepared to live with -- but only because it doesn't affect them.

As a U.S.-born citizen I'm not living in this country illegally, but this doesn't mean I couldn't be seen that way. I should wear an "I could be illegal" button to prove a point -- though I fear it could put me at even higher risk of becoming one of the estimated 20,000 American citizens who have been detained and sometimes deported since the 2003 escalation of our nation's illegal immigrant witch hunt.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.


notblind 2 years, 3 months ago

It appears that the majority of hispanics are all for amnesty for illegal aliens and they also appear to be for 'comprehensive immigration reform' along the lines of no restrictions at all on future immigration.

It also seems that the majority of non-hispanic American citizens are against amnesty for illegal aliens and they think we need enforcement of our current laws and the only reforms needed are further curbs on all immigration. Since these citizens far out number the hispanic minority what you end up with is all hispanics being looked upon with distrust. The hispanics are reaping the crop they have sown.

Even multi-generational hispanic citizens will be under increased scrutiny brought about by the immoral invasion across our southern border which is an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect.

The real problem is that the 14th Amendment is being used to cover a situation that could not have even been imagined when the Amendment was drafted. Washington has completely failed to protect the American citizens.


news2me 2 years, 3 months ago

"our nation's illegal immigrant witch hunt"

Hispanics created this problem on their own. The invasion of the past decade or so, where you shot your middle finger up at our laws, further destroyed our public education system, and overstayed your welcome by sitting around waiting for amnesty to be handed to you. You brought children here and got special services for free in our public schools and our healthcare system. Those very children you have taught that they can cheat Americans out of whatever you want by simply calling us racists and uncompassionate humans.

Hipanics need to look in the mirror and blame yourselves for the problems you have created for your people. The American Dream cannot be stolen nor given to you on a silver platter.

Thanks for the continued rhetoric, as it puts more and more US citizens on the side against Illegal Aliens. Hispanics and other Illegal Aleins are their own worst enemies.


Stu 2 years, 3 months ago

Thank you, Esther, for revealing in clear, down-to-earth terms the dirty little secret of immigrant-bashing laws --- in practice, they can't be enforced without racial profiling. Just ask my 75-year-old Hispanic friend, a military veteran and lifelong U.S. citizen, who was detained by the police for "walking while Hispanic."

Thanks as well for having the courage to state the truth in a community that is dominated by a vocal minority that tries to stifle reasoned discussion of immigration issues through intimidation and name-calling.

Please don't be discouraged by the hostile comments that this column with undoubtedly generate. Most of the folks commenting have undoubtedly never actually interacted with a Hispanic in their lives and are uncomfortable coming to terms with the human cost of the immigrant-bashing policies they blindly support. They aren't used to their echo chamber being disrupted by dissenting voices, especially the voice of those who are actually impacted by these policies.

Over time, by telling the truth about the Hispanic community and the way these policies impact Hispanics and diminish all Gwinnett residents, you can break down prejudice and help build a beloved community that is generous enough to embrace us all. Si se puede!


news2me 2 years, 3 months ago

"Just ask my 75-year-old Hispanic friend, a military veteran and lifelong U.S. citizen, who was detained by the police for "walking while Hispanic."

Stu, how many times are you going to bring up your only friend the Hispanic? Is that suppose to mean something like you have black friends so you can't be a racist?

Your voice and opinion are becoming the minority with very post of your love for lawbreakers and your hatred for your own country.

Pay a visit with your Hispanic friend to his native country and see how you are treated there. Maybe when you return from home you can apologize to your neighbor and feel remorse for your bitterness.


Stu 2 years, 3 months ago

Actually, I've traveled widely in Mexico and always been treated with great hospitality. The poorer the people I met were, the more generous they were. The contrast to the way Gwinnett treats Hispanics isn't very flattering.

Despite our best efforts, there is a vibrant Hispanic culture in Gwinnett that enriches our community -- you might want to try tapping into it.

Also, you better hope that you don't succeed in running Hispanics off. You better pray that they are still around when you hit retirement age. With the Anglo population aging, and the money we paid into the system long gone, young Hispanic workers are going to be the ones who subsidize our retirement. In addition to being wrong, our policies are economically shortsighted.

But hey, if we do succeed in chasing Hispanics out of Gwinnett, while we will miss their dynamism, cultural contributions, family values, and the economic boost they have given us, at least we won't have to be mortally offended by occasionally hearing a word or two of Spanish. Sounds like a good tradeoff to me!


FordGalaxy 2 years, 3 months ago

Question: Why should anyone think that it is the job of someone else to subsidize their retirement? You really think that we should all be pitching into the same pot for someone, likely from the government, to then dole out to us "as needed?" How about working for yourself, and setting aside money for your own retirement...and putting off the mentality of instant gratification that so permeates our society.


kmsimpson 2 years, 3 months ago

This entire column smacks of leftist elitism. Here are a few of the more priceless ones I noticed:

**"Hey, I'm a busy journalist and mom,",**

So? And your point is...? Welcome to real life. If you want to swap busy schedules, honey, you WILL be sorry.

People flag me down -- at the grocery store, the gas station, the car wash -- and I try to flee them before they ask me to write columns about their pet projects.

Well, aren't you just the sweet little neighbor! Personally, I like my neighbors friends and family, and I will do favors for them frequently. Maybe you should consider being a better friend and neighbor.

Though as the past owner of a sparkly blue 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, I can say with authority that some cars just scream "Hispanic!"

And you had a complaint about racial profiling? As usual, the leftists have an attitude of, "We're above the pettiness of every day people." Personally, I have no problems with anyone's background, but by the same token, I do not have a problem with racial profiling. I seriously doubt that 90yo grand mom is going to blow up the plane. But with the leftists, it's all or nothing. Nobody can think for themselves, nobody can fend for themselves. the government MUST CONTROL EVERYTHING. I do not want Big Brother, but I also do not want to have to make my family go without so someone else can come mooch taxpayer money in the form of education, medical, and crime & violence. there have been downs and dozens of studies done that show a direct correlation between crime rates and illegals. Well, Duh! they broke the laws to come here. Do you honestly think they will suddenly become law-abiding, upright citizens once they are here? Seriously?


Sign in to comment