Arizona law reminicent of Cold War Era |

Arizona law reminicent of Cold War Era

Felicia Muftic / My View
Grand County, CO Colorado

Arizona’s tough new immigration law reminded me of my days riding the train from Munich to West Berlin in the middle of the Cold War.

Berlin, where I was in college, was an island in the midst of a sea of East Germany. I remember a particularly harrowing train ride in the spring of 1959. Shortly into the trip, my traveling companions, all German, became tense. You could cut the air as we arrived at the border crossing into the East.

The East German police entered the car, moving from compartment to compartment, demanding papers. An older woman sitting across from me was particularly nervous. The policeman asked for her papers, looked at them, pulled her out of her seat and marched her away, as she sobbed, cried and beseeched.

The picture I have in my mind of that moment is as fresh as if the trauma happened last week, not 50 years ago. To this day, having my passport examined at border crossings still makes me uneasy, and I am as legal as anyone could be.

The entire interface of East and West Germany had closely placed watch towers, cleared land on either side of the barbed wire fences. In spite of the most fortified border in post-war history, some actually made it through. Pictures of those scaling the Wall in Berlin later are monuments to the drive those who seek a better life have to take risks and to even give their lives to go to the other side.

The lessons are two, in my mind. One lesson is how difficult it is to control borders if those who want to cross are so very determined to do so. It is not that the U.S. Border Patrol is the same as Eastern European Communist police; it is the difficulty of controlling borders, even when the patrolling force is by reputation the strongest in the world.

I am not sure there is a way to ever have completely effective border control, and that border control must be combined with comprehensive reform.

The other lesson is the fear asking for papers can cause in even those who are legal and what it means for their civil rights. The governor of Arizona claims she will not tolerate racial profiling, but her law enforcement officers cannot avoid it. The legal defense of charges to racial profiling or discrimination is to prove the law was applied equally to all, regardless of race. This will place our law enforcers in a catch-22. Do they only ask for papers from all who drive battered cars and who have an accent, or do they demand papers only from those who have an accent, drive an older vehicle and are dark skinned, too?

My husband immigrated to the United States 40 years ago. His first reaction to the Arizona law was that we need to crack down on illegals. It took us several years for him to get a visa; others should wait their term and do likewise. 

My husband is blond, though his hair is now white, with blue eyes. He has an accent. We have a 1991 beat up Suburban, which we drive once in a while. How would he feel if the local police pulled him over for going down Meadow Ridge Hill at more than 25 mph and then asked him to prove he was a legal immigrant?

I can see him offer in a panic to run back to the house to find his naturalization papers. I think he would be angry and offended and wonder what sort of a country he lived in these days. This, of course, will never happen. He is not brown, his accent is not Spanish.

That judgment call, a person who could be illegal, who fits reasonable criteria except for one, race, is the problem our law enforcement officials would face if Colorado had a law similar to the Arizona one.

– Felicia Muftic is author of the Colorado Consumer Handbook and a former Colorado Uniform Consumer Credit Code Commissioner. Visit

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