Urban Natives say Arizona law will target them

By Colton Shone
Special to the Times

PHOENIX, May 13, 2010

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When you put Native Americans, especially those native to the southwestern United States, next to people of Mexican descent, you see definite similarities.

Both typically have dark hair and brown skin. Some have accents when they speak. It is the shared characteristics that have some Native Americans worried about being targeted under Arizona's controversial new immigration law.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law on April 23. She, among other proponents of the law, said the measure is in response to the federal government's failure to resolve the nation's illegal immigration issue.

While many protestors are determined to overturn the law, it is set to go into effect this summer. However, pending lawsuits, like the ones filed by a Tucson police officer and two church groups, could potentially overthrow it. The Flagstaff and Tucson city councils also have voted to file suit against the law.

The law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. It directs local and state law enforcement to question people about their immigration status if an officer suspects, for whatever reason, that they may be here illegally.

While Brewer said the law will not cause racial profiling, Diné college student Chadelle Begay, 25, is among many who believe it will. She thinks Native Americans will be among those targeted.

"I think we're going to get singled out because we look similar to Latinos," Begay said.

Born in Chinle, she is in Phoenix for school and takes online classes at South University. She said that even Latinos sometimes take her for one of them because of her skin color.

"Sometimes they speak Spanish to me because they think I'm Latina," she said.

Begay reasons that it's only a matter of time before law enforcement officials make the same mistake.

Shanna Tachine, 21, believes there are positives and negatives about the new immigration law.

She argues that it will decrease criminal activity, such as human smuggling and drug trafficking. But she also believes that racial profiling could become a problem.

Tachine, who is from Piñon, Ariz., isn't worried that she'll be targeted because of her brown skin and dark hair.

"I've never been mistaken for someone who's Mexican or anything," she said. "People can usually tell that I'm Native."

Her family members also have never been mistaken either, she said.

While that may be the case for Tachine, Native Americans like Begay feel like they should be worried.

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