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Monday
May312010

So What's Wrong With Arizona's New Immigration Law?

Posted by: Luis J. Diaz on 5/29/2010

Arizona’s recently enacted immigration law (SB 1070, as amended by HB2162) makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and requires the local police to check immigration status and to detain anyone on mere "reasonable suspicionof being in the country illegally following a "lawful stop, detention or arrest."  The law has generated great debate. Advocates say it is needed to fight crime resulting from illegal immigration. Opponents say it will result in the violation of civil liberties.  It is an issue that requires a subtantial analysis based on facts, an understanding of American history, and a review of legal precedents involving the abuse and limits of police power. 

FACTS & ISSUES


As confirmed by a recent study from PEW Research Center, the fact is that one in four Americans believe that Hispanics are the racial/ethnic group subject to the most discrimination in America. The study found that 32% of Hispanics 16 or older say they or someone they know has experienced discrimination. Less than half of Hispanics believe that police officers in their community treat Latinos fairly. And, most police chiefs around the country, concerned about the chilling effect of this law, oppose it because of its negative impact on their ability to fight crime, obtain witness cooperation, and other concerns. 


Despite recent amendments to fix the more obvious problems of SB 1070, the law still provides no guidelines as to what is meant by "reasonable suspicion" in the context of alien status: is it 3 or more Hispanics in a car, a red bandana, a plaid shirt, a migrant worker in the field, or someone speaking Spanish? The reality is that "reasonable suspicion" likely will mean those looking like, sounding like, or acting like the stereotypical undocumented immigrant. However, police officers will be trained to write down things not related to race on their reports like the swerving car, a crooked license plate, talking on a mobile, the seatbelt being unfastened, or some other similar statement that will be difficult to disprove in a court of law and that will pit the relative credibility of a uniformed officer against that of a stereotypical poor immigrant.  Notably, Governor Brewer has already announced training on the the subject of "reasonable suspicion" for police officers that one assumes are already experts on the subject.

If the Arizona law is really targeted at crime prevention stemming from the border, then it would be logical and workable if it simply required "probable cause" of some "criminal activity" before police could check immigration status. While the difference between "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion" may not seem apparent to a lay person, these are two very different legal standards. 

HISTORY & PRECEDENTS


Millions of Americans have shed blood in many wars to preserve the civil rights we now treasure. There are 200 years of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence supporting the proposition that police powers must be narrowly limited to prevent abuse of individual rights - something our founding fathers recognized. Also, the mission of police officers is to fight crime - not to act as immigration agents. Thus, any law that creates supercops with immigration superpowers and that, in its actual application, makes it possible to target, arrest, search and seize persons with certain physical attributes is by its nature suspect and should require a higher standard.  On a cursory reading of the law, we are reminded of the phrase made famous by Hitler's infamous Gestapo: "Show me your papers, are your papers in order?" The main difference is that with SB 1070 no "jewish star of David" is necessary for an Arizona supercop to identify the stereotypical immigrant.

Like the Japanese interment laws of the 1940’s, the Arizona law undermines the very notions of equal justice and basic fairness that are fundamental values of every American. As with the interment laws, this legislation is being driven by fear and hysteria and it is expressly directed at a group of people whose physical attributes identify them on first glance as members of a specific racial group. The failure of political leadership in Arizona has allowed people that may "look Mexican" to be singled out whether citizens or not.

Based on our history, we can now anticipate the development of a laundry list of "permissible factors" that can be cited after the fact to justify a "reasonable suspicion" even though race was in fact the first glance consideration in the initial stop. As noted, Governor Brewer has announced training on the the subject of "reasonable suspicion." It is forseeable that Arizona's effort to create supercops with immigration powers will spread like a cancer to other states across the country that do not border Mexico, thereby greatly magnifying the potential civil rights violations to all Hispanic citizens that may look "illegal." 

If left unchecked, history teaches that this law could place this great nation on the same slippery slope created by the interment laws, the House Un-American efforts of Senator McCarthy, and similar dark episodes in our history where fear has been used to justify the breach of American civil rights. The eventual apology will ring hollow as it has in times past. In 1988 Congress ultimately passed and President Ronald Reagan signed legislation which apologized for the interment of Japanese Americans and acknowledged that the government actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

SO WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

The problem starts in Mexico. Thus, any real solution to the problem of illegal immigration and related criminal activity must involve (i) securing our borders, (ii) enacting stronger anti-crime measures, (iii) passing immigration reforms that make economic sense, and (iv) imposing economic sanctions against trade countries that contribute to these types of problems.  The Arizona law does not address any of these issues. Instead, it targets the victims of failed policies by both Mexico and the United States.  This is equivalent to trying to stop drug trafficking by targeting users and not pushers.  We must call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation to fix our broken immigration laws and to hold our preferred trade partners like Mexico accountable, whether or not it hurts the economic interests of some large Mexican companies and their American partners in the short run. 

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