Wanted/Unwanted: Profiling and the Migrant Worker


The man in a police car asked me to stop. I was a few feet away from our condominium to catch my husband who's about to hail a taxi to work.

Not only did I stop. My body froze from fear. In my three years here in Taiwan, this was my fifth time I've been asked to stop by the police.

Two of them came out and approached me. My husband, seeing this, went back to ask what's happening. "We want to see your ID," one guy said.

We took out our Alien Resident Certificates (ARC) from our wallets and showed it to both of them. They saw that both of us are legal residents. They just nodded without anything to say. Of course my irritated husband asked why we were questioned. The police man said in a louder voice, "It's the law! You need to bring your ID."

Honestly, I felt we were in grade school. Only we could be sent to jail.

On Racial Profiling

The night before the incident, I happened to read an article for foreigners  to always obey the laws of your host country, "even if these seem harsh or unfair."

I have high respect for the government here and I seldom question their protocols. Racial profiling, however, takes its toll on innocent people who just happen to be different from the citizens, or look like other illegal aliens.

Now, instead of feeling safe when I see roving police cars, my heart seriously beats faster with the thought that I may be one of the people they're out to get (even if I'm not guilty of anything).

Naively, I asked an American co-worker if he also had this problem. Of course, he said no but acknowledged that it was a terrible situation to be in. I just jokingly replied that I'd be willing to wear the I'm-not-illegal placard so that they'd save the time pulling over.

On 'Facial' Profiling

In the taxi cab, my husband tried to make things lighter for us. After all, it was his first time to be profiled. I looked away and diverted my attention to a row of peach blossoms in the street. I would never have this at home, I sadly thought.

It was again naive of me to think that these things just happen here.

The Philippines has its own taste too. Atty. Dodo Dulay, a columnist  for Manila Times,  asked What's wrong with "facial" profiling? With this type of profiling, he iterated that "an unfortunate Filipino tourist can be prevented or barred from traveling abroad at the whim or caprice of single immigration officer who determines that he or she is a “tourist worker” or a “potential” or “suspected” human trafficking victim based on a buffet of factors..."

During my trips from the Philippines, I was often asked by some airport personnel what I'm doing in Taiwan. I'd answer that I'm already a resident there. One officer harshly asked me if I was married to a Taiwanese since I have a Chinese name. If so, I need to get the right papers for it. "No, I'm not and what papers are you looking for," I raised my voice. He stamped my passport and let me go.

Some of my friends advised me to wear nicer clothes and a pair of earrings when passing through our immigration office in Manila airports (to look more like a well-off balikbayan). Because my flights are usually in wee hours, I was never in the mood to dress pretty. So I just keep my fingers crossed that no immigration officer will rudely interrogate me.

Truth be told, there are a lot of illegal aliens living in Taiwan, mostly from Southeast Asia. We also have serious cases of human trafficking in the Philippines. But I can't help to ask: Where does someone like me go when he or she fits the physical profiles of both the Unwanted and the Wanted?

*Postscript: I was given context by our Chinese teacher that migrant workers travel in groups and stay at work or in dormitories usually. Those traveling alone may be illegal or runaway workers. Random police checks are pretty normal too, even for citizens.


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