By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – An Asian-American has joined a federal civil-rights lawsuit challenging Arizona‘s tough immigration law that allows police to ask the immigration status of a person, stopped, detained or arrested if there’s a reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
Jim Shee, a Paradise Valley real-estate investor who is of Chinese and Spanish descent, is the only Asian-Americans among 10 individuals – the rest are Latinos – publicly named in the lawsuit.
The civil-rights lawsuit is separate from a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the most controversial provision of SB 1070 , as the Arizona immigration law came to be known, requiring police to question suspected illegal immigrants about their status, could be enforced.
Recently, a federal judge allowed the most controversial of the law to finally take effect.
In denying a request by a coalition of civil rights groups to bar the provision, commonly referred to as “show me your papers,” Judge Susan Bolton of United States District Court in Phoenix adopted the same wait-and-see approach suggested by the Supreme Court, saying that the measure could be challenged “as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”
The decision, though, does not end the legal battles that have enmeshed the measure and other portions of the law for more than two years. The Jim Shee civil-rights lawsuit may be the first test of that controversial provision of the law.
Shee, whose father was a Chinese immigrant and his motehr’s parents are from Spain, said he came forward and allowed to be the Asian face of the lawsuite because he was a victim of profiling – twice.
He told Daniel González of The Republic that back in April 2010, he was stopped by a Phoenix, Ariz. police and was asked to produce “his papers” because he looked “suspicious.”
“That is the very first thing he said,” recalled Shee, 72, told Gonzalez.
Born in Tucson, Shee has been a U.S. citizen all his life. No police officer had ever asked him for his “papers.”
Less than two weeks later, Shee said, he was with his Japanese-American wife, Marian, driving back to the Valley.
An Arizona Department of Public Safety officer traveling in the opposite direction saw Shee’s car, made a U-turn across the divided highway and pulled him over. Shee was sure he hadn’t been speeding because his cruise control was set below the speed limit.
“Why’d you stop me?” Shee recalls asking the officer.
The officer told Shee the tint on his 2002 BMW was too dark and gave him a repair order.
Even though he said he did not receive a citation in either case, Shee believed he was stopped by the way he looks.
The incidents prompted Shee to step forward and tell his story, reminding everyone, particularly the Asian-American community that the sweeping immigration law can affect anyone.
Jessica Chia, an immigration and immigrant-rights staff attorney at the Asian American Justice Center, cited Shee for coming forward.
“He has spoken so publicly and so courageously in the fight against really racist and discriminatory practices,” Chia said. “He has really raised the issue to a national agenda … for Latinos and Asians but also for citizens and non-citizens, because we all know that the harm of the law is much broader than just one segment of the population.”
Chia said Shee’s involvement in the civil-rights lawsuit is particularly significant because Asians are less likely to speak out against discrimination than other minorities, in large part because they represent a much smaller part of the population.
Although Asians are the fastest-growing minority group in Arizona, they make up just 3 percent of the state’s 6.4 million population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Latinos make up more than 30 percent of the population.
The federal lawsuit’s main claim is that SB 1070 violates the 14th Amendment’s right to equal protection by subjecting minorities to police stops, detention, questioning and arrests based on their race or national origin.
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