Arizona is a state unto its own , we know that. They don’t follow Daylight Savings Time, they were the last state to have a day in Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. But recently, Arizona passed a law that puts it well outside the rest of the country and the Constitution. On Tuesday, Arizona legislators enacted SB 1070, the toughest state anti-immigration act in the country. Governor Jan Brewer is expected to sign it into law soon. The bill makes it a misdemeanor to merely lack proper immigration paperwork . More troubling, it also directs police to determine a person’s immigration status if they form a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is an illegal immigrant. Currently, officers can only inquire about immigration status if the person is a suspect in another crime. How can someone form this suspicion without “racial profiling?”
Arizona already has many tough anti-immigration laws on the books: In 2006 the state passed a law that would dissolve companies with a pattern of hiring illegal immigrants. Last year, it made it a crime for a government worker to give improper benefits to an illegal immigrant. I imagine speaking Spanish on the streets will be illegal soon enough, I guess.
To a Dominican-American who often runs out of the house without a wallet, the law is frightening. Since I don’t have proper identification on me, I can be taken back into the stationhouse until my immigration status is verified. With me that might be easy to do since I became a naturalized citizen many years ago, but what about those awaiting their final papers or in the process of finalizing their status. How about those folks who are appealing the denial of their green card? And do we trust Arizona to properly train all of its police officers across the state about the various different statuses that are not illegal but are not full citizenship. How will they be able to identify legitimate documents from fraudulent ones? Folks could be detained for hours and hours while the process is sorted out, all for “looking like an illegal immigrant.” Of course, this law also makes it easy for police officers to use the law as a pretext for stopping and detaining illegal and legal immigrants. The issue of local enforcement of immigration laws has already been heated in Arizona, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has taken an aggressive stance, conducting sweeps in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods to round up illegal immigrants. His actions have drawn a civil rights investigation from the Department of Justice but strong praise from Arizonans. He has now been given carte blanche to continue.
The constitutionality of this law is suspect and will undoubtedly be tested in time. One of the guiding principles of the US Constitution is that it is intended to prevent unnecessary governmental intrusion upon our freedoms. The Freedom of association contained in the First Amendment allows people to stand on public streets without explanation. It is also not a crime to lack proper identification. The law must also be applied equally and not have a disparate impact on a protected class of persons.
But SB 1070 allows officers to approach a person and ask for identification merely because they appear to be an illegal immigrant. The law also says that “race” cannot be the only factor in creating this reasonable suspicion. But there can be no doubt that this law was intended to be used against the large Mexican immigrant population in Arizona. I am confident that Swedish students at ASU who overstay their visas were not the target. But any Hispanic male standing near a hardware store or Home Depot can expect to hear that formally retired phrase: “Your papers, please.”