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Latinos only? Fla. immigration law exempts Canadians, Europeans

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 16:59 EDT
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A proposed Florida immigration law that mimics the controversial one in Arizona has a provision in it that exempts Canadians and citizens of many European countries from tougher police scrutiny, prompting critics to say the law is blatantly targeted at Latinos.

Under the Florida law proposed by Attorney General Bill McCollum and state Rep. William Snyder, police would be obliged to look into an individual’s immigration status if the officer has “reasonable suspicions” the person may be in the country illegally.

But a provision in the law first reported on by Tim Elfrink at the Miami New Times states that officers are to assume that a person carrying a Canadian passport or a passport from one of 36 “visa waiver” countries is in the country legally.

“In other words, Snyder’s bill tells police to drop their ‘reasonable suspicions’ of anyone hailing from dozens of countries full of white people. How is that not racial profiling?” Elfrink asks.

He suggests that Rep. Snyder may have been hypocritical when he said in a recent radio interview that “race, ethnicity, and national origin cannot be used in making arrests. It’s immoral, illegal, and unconstitutional.”

The law’s backers say the provision exists so that the state remains friendly to tourists bearing cash; opponents say it’s clear evidence the law is racist and targeted at Latinos.

“What we’re doing there is trying to be sensitive to Canadians,” Rep. Snyder told a radio show recently, as quoted at New Times. “We have an enormous amount of … Canadians wintering here in Florida. … That language is comfort language.”

But Gabriela Garcia at Change.org argues that, if the provision were about Florida’s tourism industry, it would also exempt Latinos, who make up 52 percent of tourists to Florida:

Ah, yes tons of Canadians wintering here in Florida … along with MILLIONS of South Americans. In the biggest tourism destination in the state, Miami, people from South America comprise 52% of the visitors alone. That’s not even counting tourists from Central America and the Caribbean. These are people with plenty of disposable income, and plenty of tourism options. If Florida became a state suspicious of Latinos, they would just take their billions of dollars elsewhere. For a state whose economy relies so heavily on tourism, especially from Latin America, you’d think politicians would be a little bit more worried about making everyone feel comfortable. But that’s what makes it obvious this little clause isn’t about tourism at all. It’s about using every thin veil and pretense possible to try to legalize racial profiling.

“The Florida law in a nutshell: If you’re a white non-Hispanic, you’re presumed to be in the country legally and don’t need to show any proof. If you belong in the “all others” category, better carry your papers,” Garcia adds.

Of the 36 visa waiver countries, four are in Asia — Brunei, Japan, Singapore and South Korea — and 30 are European. Australia and New Zealand round off the list.

Florida’s immigration bill was introduced in August, to the delight of many concerned about illegal immigration but to the dismay of the state’s Latino community.

“This legislation will provide new enforcement tools for protecting our citizens and will help our state fight the ongoing problems created by illegal immigration,” Attorney General McCollum, who was running for governor at the time, said in a press release. “Florida will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens.”

 
 
 
 
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