In 2010, the simmering debate about U.S. immigration reform exploded when Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 was signed into law. A portion of the bill requires police, during the enforcement of a law, to ask for someone's identification if that person is thought to be in the country illegally.
Supporters say the law is a way to control Arizona's borders, and make the state a safer place. But critics say the law allows for widespread racial profiling. The legislation states that during the enforcement of a law -- even a small infraction such as broken headlight -- law enforcement officers are required to ask for identification from someone they think might be in the U.S. illegally. The fear is that the only ones being stopped and questioned by police would be people who look or sound Latino.
Hispanic U.S. citizens faced deportation threats before the passage of Arizona's Senate Bill 1070. CLICK HERE to learn more.
Even though the law triggered a wave of protests, polls showed that over 50 percent of Arizona voters supported the bill. The law went into effect in July of 2010, but the more controversial parts of it were suspended by a federal judge and are currently being disputed in the courts.
"What Would You Do?" decided to travel to Arizona. We installed our hidden cameras at BK Carne Asada and Hotdogs, a popular restaurant in Tucson, and hired actors to portray an off-duty security guard and a Latino customer. Later, host John Quinones, who is Hispanic, went undercover to see how restaurant patrons would react when he was the one facing racial profiling. (See the next page for more on Quinones' undercover work.)
In our first scenario, the security guard approaches the actor playing the Latino customer moments after he enters the restaurant.
"You got any ID on you? Documentation? Papers?" he asks. "Are you visiting? Do you understand a little English?"
At first, people who seem to notice what's going on just stare nervously at the two men. But within a few minutes, a man charges up and confronts the security guard.
"Excuse me, who are you? Do you work here?" asks the man.
"No, I'm a security guard, I just stopped in to get some food," replies the guard. "I'm just trying to be a good American."
"I wouldn't say you're a good American. I'd say you're an ass!" yells the man.
What our actor playing the security guard was doing -- racial profiling -- was exactly what some argue would happen under the new immigration law.
We wondered what would happen if the security guard challenges not just one Latino man, but an entire family.
"… I noticed you guys walk in, so I just wanted to make sure you're legal. … Just show me your ID," says our security guard to three actors portraying a Latino family.
"Are you flipping kidding me?" yells Rebecca Russ, a restaurant patron who gets in the guard's face. "You want to ask them if they belong here? Do you belong here?"
"Don't you guys want to know if they have ID?" the security guard asks.
"It's nobody's [expletive] business, get out!" yells Russ. "Oh my God, I want to punch him! ... They have a daughter!"
Possible Racial Profiling
All day, whites and Latinos alike give comfort to our Mexican-American actors. One woman, Candice Coker, approaches the actress playing the Latino mother and offers words of support after the guard leaves the scene. Later, Coker tells Quinones that she's never given a thought to the consequences of the anti-immigration law. But seeing the impact racial profiling has on a family made her think twice about the legislation.
In another scene, the sad face of Bella, our actress playing the little girl, causes a man named Manny Aparicio to spring into action.
"There's a time and a place, that ain't it. When you got a kid, you don't play that game," says Aparicio to the security guard.
When we decide to tell Aparicio that he is on "What Would You Do?" he tells Quinones, "When you are profiling people because of how they look -- that's not what this country is about, you know?"
He also points out that Quinones himself is Hispanic and could face profiling, which makes us wonder, what would happen if Quinones went undercover?
We decide to find out. Quinones dons a baseball cap and sunglasses, and goes into the restaurant along with our other actor, David Pinon, playing victims of the security guard's harassment.
"Speak English at all? You guys from Mexico?" the guard asks Quinones and Pinon. "You have some papers or anything like that?"
Upon hearing the guard's remarks, customer Neil Gago launches out of his seat. With quiet authority, he points to the door and says to the guard, "Go. Go. Go!"
Our actor obliges and leaves, but lingers outside the restaurant and pretends to call Border Patrol. Inside the restaurant, a young woman watches the guard warily and then gives him the finger. After a few minutes, she leaves to confront him, and is followed by another woman named Mayra Penunuri. The two women fearlessly confront the security guard outside, telling him to go home. Penunuri stamps her foot in anger and fires off a few cuss words in Spanish before going back inside to finish her dinner.
When Quinones reveals himself to Penunuri, she laughs heartily and tells him that among other things, she called the guard a "Gringo." She also said that it wasn't important that she didn't know Quinones -- she just thought it was important to defend him.
One after another, people step up and chase the guard out of the restaurant. Our most amazing intervention occurs when one woman decides she needs to do more than just yell at the guard -- she needs to act. She devises a plan to help Quinones and Pinon flee the restaurant to avoid possible deportation.
Over two days of filming, we were amazed to see dozens of people stepping up when witnessing racial profiling in action. All kinds of people intervened -- in fact, the majority were non-Hispanic. Despite the fact that the anti-immigration law seems popular in Arizona, we didn't see any evidence of it in this Tucson restaurant.