At the age of 13, Jose Antonio Vargas came to the United States with hopes of a bright future. Vargas worked hard to learn English, graduate from college, become a journalist, and win the Pulitzer Prize for his work with the Washington Post. Despite these accomplishments, Vargas lived in fear, constantly asking himself, “What will happen if people find out?” Vargas, now 32, along with over 11 million others, live with the fear of being taken out of their homes and deported because they are undocumented immigrants. This should not happen. As a nation based on equality, America should extend basic rights set forth in the Constitution to everyone, even those without proper paperwork.
The Constitution protects the rights of persons in the United States. Specifically, the 5th Amendment states that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Due process and equal protection of the law may not be restricted. All people, undocumented or legal citizens, should be provided the same basic rights. In fact, nonresidents have already been afforded many fundamental American rights.
The courts have ruled that constitutional protections extend to residents regardless of their legal status, as long as they live in America. In a 1982 case, Plyler v. Doe, the United States Supreme Court ruled that children living illegally in the United States have the constitutional right to free public education. Congress has followed the court’s lead and in 1986 enacted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which provides undocumented aliens with medical care. These are just two examples of constitutional rights being extended to all residents.
Yet, the state of Arizona has enacted a law that appears to violate these rights. Senate Bill 1070 gives police officers the ability to detain any person they believe is in the country illegally. It disregards the 4th Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable seizures, and the law also permits racial profiling. Omar Jadwat, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said this, “Law enforcement resources are wasted when people are targeted based on their skin color, and our core American values of fairness and equality are compromised.” Senate Bill 1070 should be declared unconstitutional.
Every person in the United States is entitled to due process and equal protection of the law. The history of the United States is full of struggles to correct basic inequalities: slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights are just a few examples. President Barack Obama said this about immigration, “Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth, it’s a matter of faith, of shared fidelity to the ideas and values that we hold so dear. Anybody can help us write the next great chapter in our history.” The opportunity is available for us to write this next chapter by removing the fears of Jose Vargas and millions of others by providing the fullest possible measures of equal protection under the law.