"Excuse me, I'm going to need to see some identification. You don't look like you belong here in America."
What would you do if you were enjoying lunch in a restaurant and you suddenly heard someone being asked to prove their identity merely because of the way they look?
You might think to yourself, "this can't be happening." But it does happen -- and it has been happening for years, long before Arizona's tough new immigration bill, SB 1070 -- which requires authorities to check someone's identification when they suspect someone is illegal -- brought racial profiling into the national spotlight.
On June 17, 2010, 19-year-old Luis Alberto Delgado was detained by U.S. Border Patrol after a traffic stop in South Texas. Delgado was an American citizen, born in Houston, but his English was poor. He produced his U.S. birth certificate, but immigration agents insisted that his documents were fake. They detained Delgado while they investigated.
Eventually the young man was pressured into signing paperwork that lead to his deportation back to Mexico, according to accounts he gave in published reports. He languished in Mexico for nearly three months before immigration officials finally cleared him to return to the states. Delgado moved back to Houston, only to find that he had lost his job. He decided to take English classes to improve his fluency so that he wouldn't be discriminated against in the future.
Sixty-four-year-old Daniel Magos, a U.S. citizen since 1967, is a contractor in Phoenix, Ariz. In December 2009, he was driving in Phoenix with his wife Eva, 69, when he heard the sirens of a police car and instructions to pull to the side of the road, as reported by The Village Voice.
A Maricopa County sheriff deputy told Magos he was being pulled over because the license plate on the back of his truck wasn't clearly visible. But the deputy had approached the couple from the front – and had no chance to see the rear-end license plate, Magos said. The deputy demanded identification from both Magos and his wife, frisked Magos, and finally released him. Magos complained about how he was treated and asked for the deputy's badge number.
"I hope you don't think this is racial profiling," Magos quoted the deputy as saying.
Judge Jose Padilla is a Maricopa County Superior Court judge in Surprise, Ariz. But while his job is to uphold United States law in court, published reports say his citizenship has been questioned twice since he became a judge in 2006, merely because he looks Hispanic.
In one case, he said he was pulled over because police said his lights were too bright. The officers who stopped him gave him a repair order. Another time, Judge Padilla said he was stopped near the courthouse where he works. He was told his license plate cover was partially blocking the plate, making the numbers hard to read. In both situations, Padilla did not disclose his occupation, and he didn't receive a ticket for either incident. But he said he complained to the Surprise police department and his feedback actually resulted in sensitivity training for the officers.
In recent years, there have been myriad allegations that U.S. Immigration officials have wrongfully deported U.S. citizens. But estimates of how often this happens vary. Statistics are hard to come by, and not officially tracked by immigration officials.