Los Suns and the Heated Immigration Debate

Written by Randal Serr on . Posted in Politics

Fans of the NBA have probably noticed that certain teams with large Latino populations in their state have what is called a “noche latina” every so often.

Teams from Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Phoenix have all participated in such nights dedicated to their Latino community, sporting jerseys saying “El Heat,” “Los Spurs,” “Los Lakers,” and “Los Suns.” Let’s be honest, it is largely a marketing scheme. Most recently, the Phoenix Suns were united in a decision to sport the jerseys, not on the “noche latina” but in the midst of a fierce debate about a bill that the Arizona Legislature recently passed which gives police an unprecedented amount of power to crack down on those suspected of being in the state illegally.

This story underlies a larger discussion in the midst of all the turmoil. The Suns decided to wear the jerseys not for marketing, but to show support for the Latino community. This comes in the face of some possibly very serious repercussions to a business that is already in financial distress. A recent poll shows that 70 percent of likely voters in Arizona favor the bill while, interestingly enough, 53 percent are concerned that its enforcement will lead to violation of many citizens’ civil rights. From those poll numbers it is apparent that people want the immigration problem to be dealt with, but they do not agree with how the bill allows for law enforcement to question anyone under “reasonable suspicion” to prove they are in the country legally.

Under the new law, if you are unable to provide documents showing that you are in the country legally, your arrest is a requirement. Previous law required police only to ask about legal status if you were involved in a crime. “Reasonable suspicion” is very subjective and could lead to infringement of civil rights. The bill also includes provisions that make it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor.

The Suns have furthered an already divisive debate. President Obama recognized their protest in his speech at the White House while celebrating Cinco de Mayo, calling for comprehensive immigration reform this year. Rev. Al Sharpton led a demonstration against the immigration bill by the US Airways Center to the Arizona state capitol building before the pivotal game against the Spurs. (Conservatives begrudgingly began to root for the Spurs in this series.)

Noticing the uproar over the likely racial profiling, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed an amendment to the bill intended to prevent racial profiling. I am still not clear how you can make people provide proof of their legality in the state because of “reasonable suspicion” without profiling on the basis of race. How do you know the police will not detain someone based on race, then find some minor infraction as an additional reason for detainment? And how to you regulate such a broad amendment?

The many chain e-mails I have received from conservative friends dealing with illegal immigration are not only racist, but they are aimed specifically at the Latino community. They are not complaining about any other immigrant population besides Latinos. Brewer’s latest amendment does little to change a law that allows for law enforcement to target a specific race. There were many cries of socialism from the right following the passage of President Obama’s health care overhaul, but this Arizona bill resembles the makings of an actual police state.

The Suns lost a lot of conservative fans with their bold move, but they undoubtedly gained a large number of more fair-minded supporters at the same time.

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