My mom once rode the Greyhound bus through South Texas.
She was returning from a funeral in her home town of Carrizo Springs, and a U.S. immigration official got on the bus.
"¡Papeles!" he started shouting asking for people's papers.
My mom had been napping and was confused. She saw a uniform and thought he was the bus driver.
"I gave you my bus ticket when we boarded," she spoke to the man in uniform in English.
"¿Tienes papeles?" he asked her again in Spanish.
"What kind of papers are you talking about?" my mom asked him in English.
"A green card," he told her. "I'm a U.S. immigration officer."
My mom snapped back at him, "The only green card I have is American Express."
"Where are you from?" he asked her.
"I'm a U.S. citizen. I was born in Carrizo Springs, Texas, and I reside in Chicago."
"Oh forget it," the immigration officer said and walked away.
Arizona is on the brink of legalizing racial profiling. SB1070 is set to take effect tomorrow unless there is a last-minute ruling by a federal judge.
If this incident with my mom happened in Arizona, she could have been detained and asked for proof of her citizenship. An American Express card or even a driver's license might not be proof enough.
She shouldn't be forced to carry around a U.S. passport just because she is Hispanic. If she was white or blonde, nobody would ask her for papers.
This new law isn't going to help police catch criminals. It's just going to result in harassment of people of Hispanic origin like my mother.
There were reports this spring of a commercial truck driver who was hauled off to an immigration detention center.
He showed officials at a weigh station his driver's license and Social Security number but they didn't believe he was a U.S. citizen. He was released after his wife went home and got his birth certificate to show he was born in Fresno, Calif.
By the way, I saw a television interview with him by 3TV in Phoenix and he spoke with an accent.
So are all people with accents now "reasonably suspicious?"
And you may have heard of the Puerto Rican man, Eduardo Caraballo, in Chicago who was detained by immigration officials in May. He showed them a birth certificate and a state ID but they didn't believe his documentation was real.
All Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens since the island is a U.S. commonwealth. He shouldn't have to have shown proof of anything.
But he was a brown man and he could be undocumented.
Anybody who is not white in Arizona will face this kind of reasonable suspicion that will now be cast on all Hispanics regardless of their immigration status.
The truth is it's impossible to know what an undocumented person looks like. You can't tell by one's appearance, or accent or even their shoes.
Still some politicians think you can tell. California Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican, said "trained professionals" can identify undocumented workers just by looking at their clothes.
"They will look at the kind of dress you wear, there is different type of attire, there is different type of -- right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes," Bilbray told Chris Matthews on Hardball.
That makes me worry for my stepfather, Mexico-born but a naturalized U.S. citizen. He wears a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. And he has an accent. That might make him suspicious in Arizona.
I hope that this law will be overturned in the courts as soon as possible. In the meantime, I plan to stay far away from Arizona.
I'm a U.S. citizen. With my dark hair and olive skin I could be mistaken for an undocumented immigrant. I refuse to carry around my passport unless all Americans are required to do so.
If I'm ever stopped anywhere in the country, I'm going to use my mother's line, "The only green card I have is American Express."