Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More on Arizona

The right is upset now that Attorney General Eric Holder- who famously had not read the new Arizona immigration law before he criticized it back in May- is now ready to sue Arizona for that very same law.

It's been a bit upsetting that critics of the law's critics (or I suppose we'd call them supporters) have been so dismissive. So that there's no confusion, what the law says is that law enforcement must make a reasonable attempt to assess a person's immigration status when reasonable suspicion exists that an individual subject to a legal stop is in the country illegally. That the text of the law claims it only seeks to enforce federal law, is really besides the point. What matters is how the law works in practice and how it alters existing law enforcement practices.

I'm working under the assumption that there's something in this law that gives law enforcement greater powers than what they had the past- otherwise, why pass the law in the first place if the practices specified were already legal? Under previously existing law, law enforcement was permitted to conduct immigration checks on anyone who had been placed under arrest or was being held in police custody. What the new law does is allow law enforcement to conduct immigration checks during lawful stops. The typical example is a traffic stop, but such lawful stops would also include stop and frisks on the street.

The law does not require individuals to prove their citizenship- such a law would b a flagrant violation of the Constitution and the right to due process. My problem is specifically with what the law doesn't say and what it implies. I can't imagine it's an easy process to determine the immigration status of an individual who has no ID. So in the real world, what are police supposed to do with individuals they suspect are in the country illegally. The text of the law doesn't say, but my concern is that this means the police can detain such individuals about whom they have suspicions in order to conduct and immigration check. Without the power to detain, the law is toothless and what have little or no real world effect.

It's that ability to detain- based on nothing more than an officer's suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally- that troubles me. I haven't delved too much into the racial implications of the law, but thy should be obvious. Supporters of the law says it doesn't allow for racial profiling, but I can't understand how it wouldn't in the real world. Aren't there going to be far greater numbers of Hispanics who have their immigration status checked by police then there will be black or white people? The law requires the reasonable suspicion of a police officer, but how could it possibly be reasonable to implement this law in a colorblind manner that doesn't take race and language into consideration? The only way that would be possible would be if police automatically conducted immigration checks on every individual stopped who didn't have valid identification. And the problem with that is it's a surreptitious I.D. requirement, exactly the sort of "papers please" policy that the laws supporters say the law isn't.

To return to the issue of racial profiling, the problem here is that this is profiling of the worst sort, involving the potential detention of American citizens for not carrying identification. This is not the airport, where people chose to abide by strict security measures, nor (as some supporters of the law claim) does the Arizona law apply solely to traffic stops and drivers. And the idea that no American citizens would ever be detained by this policy is preposterous. Unless the police have magic intuition which can flawlessly distinguish illegal immigrants from legal immigrants and citizens, how would some American citizens not be subject to detention for failing to carry their papers?

If someone can explain to me the ways in which this law isn't A) a severe example of racial profiling or B) a requirement that individuals carry ID at all times, I would love to hear it.


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