The Truth About the Arizona Immigration Bill

May 1st, 2010 by Lee Eldridge

Linda RonstadtLinda Ronstadt and Shakira don’t like it.

“Mexican-Americans are not going to take this lying down,” singer Linda Ronstadt, a Tucson native, said at a news conference on a lawsuit planned by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center.

“It goes against all human dignity,” said Shakira.

Reading the Law
I’ve heard a lot the last couple of weeks from critics and supporters. It’s clear that both sides are attempting to use this law like a club to gain a political advantage over the other party. We’ll come back to the politics of this in a minute. My first thought was I wondered if Ronstadt or Shakira had bothered to read the law? (Read Arizona Senate Bill 1070 here.) Or if they bothered to do any research on the legality of racial profiling? My guess is that no, they have not.

Racial Profiling
This really seems to be the biggest criticism of the bill — that Arizona law enforcement will question and detain Hispanics because they’re Hispanics in order to ascertain whether or not they’re in the country legally. People seem to believe that this bill will transform well-intentioned policemen into racist profilers violating the legal rights of Hispanic Americans who are legal residents of the United States.

This is just an absurd conclusion. And hugely disrespectful to the fine men and women who put their lives on the line protecting our communities.

Profiling is legal and a component of law enforcement. But what is ILLEGAL is racial profiling. Law enforcement cannot, even under this bill, profile people based on their race in order to question or detain them.

A Copy of the Federal Law
A significant portion of the Arizona law is  basically a copy of the federal law. It’s making a state crime out of a federal crime. For instance, the federal law requires “every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him.” The problem is that this federal law is not routinely enforced, so state officials are making it a state crime and plan to be more proactive in the enforcement of the law. (For more, read this post on PolitiFact.com.)

Is it Constitutional?
Certainly the portion of the state law that mimics the federal law is Constitutional. And racial profiling remains illegal. But there is some gray area in this bill that needs to be clarified and fixed. Law enforcement can only engage people in “lawful contact”, and can only question them about their status in the country if they have “reasonable suspicion”.

Here’s the law: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state or a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.”

The gray area is “reasonable suspicion”. We’ve already covered that it can’t be racially driven, but this still remains a pretty broad and ambiguous statement in the law. Typically this is something that would get sorted out in the courts over time, but because of the national attention to this law, it will probably need to get sorted out more quickly than that. My guess is that Arizona lawmakers will likely revisit this bill, and try to clean up some of the ambiguous language in the law. (There are two posts on PolitiFact.com that covers this portion of the law. Here is post one and post two.)

The Politics
I’ll be honest with you, immigration law is really not very high on my personal radar. It’s clear that the lack of security on our borders is a national security problem. The number of illegal aliens in our country is a huge financial drain on our communities. And an incredible amount of illegal drugs enter the country through the Mexican border. This has been a problem for generations that our lawmakers have not had the political fortitude to fix. President Obama admitted this week that Washington doesn’t have the “appetite” to tackle this issue any time soon. But that hasn’t stopped people from using this controversy in Arizona for political gain.

Democrats and liberals portray the right as racists every time illegal immigration comes up. Republicans and conservatives blast the left as soft on national security, and unwilling to uphold immigration laws.

The truth is that border states like Arizona are left holding the bag when the federal government doesn’t uphold their end of the bargain. Border security and illegal immigration are federal responsibilities. But what is a state like Arizona to do when the feds refuse to fix the problem?

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4 Responses to “The Truth About the Arizona Immigration Bill”

  1. Bobby Says:

    So Lee, do you support the bill?

    A good piece in the NYTimes:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/opinion/29kobach.html

  2. Lee Eldridge Says:

    I support that our states have the right to protect themselves. The feds aren’t doing enough to secure our borders. Personally I think the attention this law has received is over the top, bordering on hysteria from opponents. I suspect that it won’t make much difference in the problems Arizona is facing with illegal immigration.

  3. Dems Give Calderon Standing O for Criticizing Arizona Law | Lee Eldridge Says:

    [...] federal lawsuit against Arizona. Here I am, a little blogger from Kansas, and before posting my own comments on the law a couple weeks ago, the first thing I did was I READ THE LAW! In a recent FoxNews [...]

  4. Christy Career Says:

    No matter what you think of this law, the businesses of Arizona should not be boycotted. They didn’t make the law, the politicians did. This boycott talk is ridiculous.