Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arizona is the new Japan

In the past, foreign residents of Japan have always made arguments like: "If we were in America, this wouldn't have happened..."; "They wouldn't treat us this way if we were Japanese!"; "Sure, Japan isn't perfect, but other countries have better policies". And not always to blow off steam - sometimes they actually have a point to these arguments. For example, the ongoing gaijin card check: a legal inquiry usually performed by police officers discerning as to whether a foreigner in Japan is there for legitimate reasons; i.e. show your identification or face imprisonment or deportation. Black and white, but correct in essentials.

Now, it seems Japan isn't the only nation to jump the gun when it comes to keeping tabs on foreigners. In the US, the state of Arizona is considering a law allowing the police to:

1. Detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization
2. Charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents
3. It also allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced

With the exception of number three, this law reads almost word-for-word that of current policy in Japan.

New to Japan? New to this blog? Never been the object of discrimination in your life (if so, lucky you)? Let me explain.

If you look foreign, police in Japan (and Arizona) have a right to stop you in your tracks, demand identification, and detain you if such documents aren't available. I glazed over that first clause, but let's come back to it: looking foreign. In a relatively ethnically homogenous country like Japan, this is pretty cut and dry: you're not Japanese, you're subject to interrogation. It's been criticized heavily in recent years due to the growing numbers of new Japanese: Korean and Chinese descent, children born into interracial families, naturalized citizens, to name a few. Police still feel confident that if it looks like a foreigner, talks like a foreigner, and isn't Japanese, hey, it's a foreigner!

Not imagine how this would go down in Arizona. The US is diverse. Period. I took the liberty of examining the state's demographics from the 2008 census:

White persons, percent, 2008 (a) 86.5%
Black persons, percent, 2008 (a) 4.2%
American Indian and Alaska Native persons, percent, 2008 (a) 4.9%
Asian persons, percent, 2008 (a) 2.5%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, percent, 2008 (a) 0.2%
Persons reporting two or more races, percent, 2008 1.8%
Persons of Hispanic or Latino origin, percent, 2008 (b) 30.1%
White persons not Hispanic, percent, 2008 58.4%

30% Hispanic. Every time the police use their authority to stop someone of Hispanic descent (and I'd love to hear the reasons for this; should make for amusing and racist reads), they're targeting one third of the population of their state. About two million people given another reason to fear the police. I already do, and I'm a clean cut white boy.


Tim said...

Thanks for this post. Highly recommend Ted Conover's book, Coyotes, for a good look at Mexican immigration to the North.

Andrew said...

Great article. Being in Korea myself - another very homogeneously-cultured country - it's very clear how much easier it is to stick out as a foreigner than it is for a foreigner at home. I think something like 40% of Koreans have never seen a foreigner before. It completely changes the way you look at social issues about foreignness and immigrants. What you say has a lot of truth to it, and while some if it is hard to deal with, it's the truth nonetheless.