Please consider this a serious word of caution. A lot of Indians, including us, currently reside in the United States. We, of course, are here legally, either studying or working with a valid visa (including a green card), or are in the status of a dependant of a valid visa holder. A few of us (like the children of my friends) are even American citizens by birth or naturalization.
Some of us speak English fluently, some haltingly; some speak it with a heavy Indian accent, some with no accent, and some with an American accent. Almost all of us pay their annual Federal, State and City taxes, and all of us are contributing to the society and economy of this country in some way or other. We have friends and families here, and are busy in building our lives and careers.
Doesn't matter. All that matters is that we all have skins of various shades of brown. And it has just started mattering a whole lot in the State of Arizona.
Many of you may have heard or read about the senate bill SB-1070 which was just signed into law by the Republican Governor of Arizona, Ms. Jan Brewer. Many of you may even be familiar with the accusations associated with this bill, of enabling racial profiling by the police.
In summary, this draconian law gives the police in Arizona wide-ranging powers to approach anyone who they assume to be an illegal immigrant, and ask for documentation of their citizenship or immigration status. If the person cannot provide the desired papers on the spot, he or she would be arrested and taken to a facility for incarceration and/or interrogation.
Let that sink in for a moment. In the State of Arizona, you are required to carry your documentation at all times. If you have brown skin and speak English differently, you are going to be asked for your papers by the police, and if you cannot produce them right then and there, you are going to be arrested. During the press conference at which Governor Brewer signed the law, she was asked how the police would identify an illegal immigrant, and how they would differentiate between a legal and an illegal immigrant. She stated that she did not know... but that the police would know.
You can watch a video commentary on this (including Gov. Brewer's press conference) on the Rachel Maddow show:
For us, the legal immigrants, the required documents are the Indian Passport with a valid visa stamped AND the I-94 document (that they staple to your passport at the entry point). If you don't have a valid visa, for example, if you have your visa papers, but haven't yet gone to India to get the passport stamped, you must carry those papers with you. For the American citizens, the required document is the birth certificate and/or the American Passport. Just providing your Social Security number and/or a Driver's License isn't going to cut it.
Please consider this matter with some urgency, especially if you are planning to drive or fly through or go to Arizona any time in the near future. Phoenix being a major flight hub, a lot of us often have to stop over there for our flights. Please remember to carry these documents.
Why this urgency? Because the profiling has already begun. An ethnically hispanic commercial-truck driver, born in Fresno, California, and married to a woman residing in the Maricopa country of AZ, was stopped at a traffic check point, and asked for his documents. Though he provided his driver's license and SSN, he was asked for his birth certificate - and when he indicated that it was at his home, he was handcuffed and taken to the immigration office in Phoenix. His wife was contacted, and she drove for about 90 minutes to get to Phoenix with his birth certificate. The young man was released when the document checked out.
You can read about it and watch the video at the AZ 3TV website.
Please be cautious and prudent for the sake of yourself and your loved ones.