Reasonable Suspicion

My college girlfriends and I had considered Arizona as a spot for a 40th bday bash, but I’m not sure we’d pass muster. We’ve all been questioned before. We’ve all been told one way or another that for some reason that surely has absolutely nothing to do with race, color or national origin that we just don’t look like we belong.

It usually goes something like this…

Someone trying to make conversation with me: “Where are you from?”

Me: Oh, I’m from (fill in the blank  – Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Portland, Phoenix, Flagstaff).

Same Someone: No, I mean where are you REALLY from.

Me: Huh?

Still that Same Someone: You know. Where are you FROM?

The only place I knew as “home”, as the place I was from, was Chicago. Why wasn’t that answer enough? Because I don’t look or sound like a Chicagoan? Just ask me to say “hot dog” and “beer”. I’ve got Chicaaahgo.

Being told in so many words in so many ways that you don’t belong, that you couldn’t possibly be from where you say you are actually from can make you reasonably suspicious of people who ask the “where are you from” question.

But now the “where are you from” question takes on an entirely different level of fear, intimidation and distinction. Will all American citizens living in Arizona or traveling through/in Arizona, as a precautionary measure and to be in full compliance will the law, carry proof of their immigration status? You’re not an immigrant so you don’t need to carry identification? Prove it.

One of the provisions in the Arizona law “requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.”

Help me understand what are the other things to consider in implementation? If the person speaks with an accent or can’t speak proper English, is that enough to raise reasonable suspicion? Jeez, I know plenty of folks who had better laminate their birth certificates or carry their passports if they are going to be in Arizona. How can you tell national origin by looking at someone, listening to someone?

I’ve been following the reactions to the new law, and the responses that confuse me the most are the ones that argue the only ones who are worried or angry or concerned about this law are probably illegal and already undocumented. Obviously, citizens who are here legally should have nothing to be worried about. But doesn’t the law apply to everyone? Anyone’s immigration status could come into question, but it’s not really “anyone” we’re talking about here. Not just “anyone” is going to have their immigration status questioned because not just “anyone” gets asked “where are you from?” more than once. Not just “anyone” gets pulled over in certain neighborhoods and communities. Not just “anyone” gets followed in certain stores. Not just “anyone”. Just those who raise reasonable suspicion. Right?

I am trying to make a reasonable attempt at understanding how this law will be implemented but I’m reasonably suspicious.


  1. MJ April 24, 2010

    I know someone who was meeting with their school principal. There was certainly a bone of contention when the principal started a sentence with, “Well in this country…” Can you believe it? Now this person I know does speak with a Korean accent but has lived here 40 years! It’s all over the place; Arizona is just choosing to be blatant about it’s discrimination. With a country made up of immigrants, this sure pigeon holes people and treats you like you don’t belong.

  2. mark April 24, 2010

    Hi, Tea

    Being just a bit older than you, being Chicago born and raised, gives me an insight that may help you to see the bigger picture here. I have traveled 40 + states and lived in a half dozen of them. Chicago is one of the most racist cities I know. Being the third largest city in America, says that racism is a bigger issue than people will cop to or admit to. While not everyone is a racist we have morals & ethics that enforce racist policies and governance.

    We have outdated immigration laws, that has served big business and labor well for a long time. Immigration built this country & has been used as a tool by corporate interest to keep the living wage “LOW” while at the same time provided a huge tax base for the U.S. government. That is just the tip of the ice berg. What lies below the surface is just as wrong, It is where U.S. law has to make right our constitution for all it’s citizens.

    We must stop the bleeding and it only starts with illegal immigration. Americans resourcefulness has always filled the labor voids and when new industry called we answered. The problem is we grew too fast and lost our ability to produce good’s that provide the capital to sustain our economy. Now we are a service base society and no longer can manufacture the good’s we need to survive our needs as a free nation.

    Our law makers have been asleep at the wheel for too long and serve the biggest donors needs instead of the peoples needs. We must protect what few jobs we have left in this country, if “we the people” want to survive. We should all be prospering rather than working to survive Wall street greed & hostile corporate take overs of American producers of good’s.

    I’m sure you are a good person, and you have been insulted by an ignorant America because of your heritage & I am sorry for that. We need better education, laws, healthcare… If we all intend to survive we must all vote and hold our elected officials to account for their politics. Politics will not make this country strong, but “we the people can, again. This time we need to keep a more watchful eye on our progress and make sure that success is equally shared, so that our children have a fighting chance in the future.

    • Kathy Khang April 24, 2010

      Thanks for your comment (and BTW, your story about meeting “Robert fricken Plant” was very, very cool as it unfolded over time through different layers of your life and relationships), and thanks for assuming the very best in me – that I am a good person. I would like to think that most people are good people with good intentions, and that this new law in Arizona stems from good intentions of good people. I am, however, deeply concerned that the application of this law tries to address an issue by aiming a laser at what is, as you described as, the bigger picture.

      I agree with you. Current immigration laws and the process by which immigrants can become legal residents and naturalized citizens are outdated, favor those with access and privilege (having just been through the naturalization process recently), and is open to corruption and abuse by Americans as well as those wanting to become Americans. I have no doubt that the Arizona law, at some level, is an attempt to right what people think is wrong. I just happen to disagree with the method and application. Knowing what I’ve experienced because of my heritage, I fear for how this law will impact Arizona residents.

      Which is, in part, why I finally became a naturalized citizen – to be a more active part of the process. Thanks for being a part of the conversation that pushes the process forward between real people…even if we only meet virtually!

    • JP April 24, 2010

      JP says:
      This is my third attempt at writing a comment. I have read and re-read your comment to “Tea’s” blog. I am trying be a “good person” and not be as ignorant as some of us Americans. I am not as knowledgable in the government and immigration laws as you, but here goes…

      Mark, I too am Chicago born and raised, have traveled many states and am very aware of the racism in all cities. I may not be as old and wise as you and therefore do not have as much insight to the big picture. But here is what my 36 years of being an American has taught me to question.

      What is an American? Someone who is born here? Someone who has gone through the process of citizenship? Once that person becomes an American, does that mean they look different on the outside and people can tell they are American? Just because your an American living in America, does that make you want to work any harder? Are there not Americans that choose not to work and take advantage of other sources of funding that America provides for them?…those are just a few.

      You may sense an undertone of sarcasm and anger? Probably, I was born and raised here, but because of my “heritage” have experienced racism. I don’t appreciate people asking me slowly and loudly if I speak English. I am neither deaf nor dumb and can speak English with much more fluency than the language I grew up around.

      Mark, what makes you American? Do you have no heritage to speak of? Or maybe your heritage makes you look like a stero-typical American…whatever that is. I suppose my children, because of their father, look more “American” than I and for that I am grateful to him. I hope they do not grow up experiencing the racism and ignorance of their fellow Americans as I have.

      I don’t agree that the Arizona Law will help the bleeding! I actually think the only thing it will do is cause a hemmorhaging of more racism against Americans who look American with those that do not. It will encourage more ignorance and racism.

      I don’t know what the answer is, but the Arizona Law is not it!

      I will agree…to disagree with you on another note…everyone has a big picture and everyone wants their children to have a fighting chance! But everyone’s big picture is different and everyone wants different chances for their children. Ignorance and racism is definately not what I want for mine!

      “Tea’s” younger American sister


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