Arizona immigration law: calm down already

I’m not seeing the nuances of the Arizona bill correctly reported very much, and I fear that this is distorting the debate.

The new state law (full text here) has two salient points. First, it criminalizes being in the state if you’re in violation of US immigration law. It’s a fair argument to say that if the federal government were enforcing our existing immigration laws that the situation in Arizona today would be very different, but that’s a topic for another post.

Second, the new law requires (sort of) that law enforcement officers who are already in “lawful contact” with someone to make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in violation of state or federal immigration law. There are exemptions, of course, and word has already gone out that some law enforcement agencies won’t enforce the new law anyway. This is not, of course, the same thing as giving the polizei power to detain and interrogate every brown person in the state.

In fact, it seems remarkably similar to a number of other laws that we more or less accept as a matter of course. One example: various state bans on driving while using cell phones, while not wearing seat belts, etc. In many states, the police cannot stop you solely because you have a phone clamped to your ear or because your seat belt is off. However, if they have another legitimate cause to stop you, you can be cited for the “real” offense as well as for the secondary one. It seems as though the Arizona law is much closer to these laws than to an open invitation to scrutinize every non-Caucasian they see.

I don’t see the Arizona law as much different than the existing and well-understood case law that defines when the police may ask someone to present ID. Can a random cop ask you for ID when you’re just walking down the street, minding your own business? Generally not. Can they require you to present ID as part of other types of interaction? Sure.

Rather than label Arizonans as Nazis, or call for a worldwide boycott, or whatever, I’d really like to see the people who are complaining about the law propose some workable alternatives… other than "ignore the problem and hope it goes away."


Filed under Musings

2 responses to “Arizona immigration law: calm down already

  1. Narkor

    Rather than switching to a “Papers Please” society, how about policing the border in a less ad hoc manner. Of course given the head kicking that Sci-Fi author Peter Watts got at the US/Canada border recently, the country is probably already slipped past the point of return on the “demonize the foreigner” scale of civil behavior.

  2. What happened to Peter Watts was wrong, full stop. Instead of him being on trial, the CBP moron who attacked him should be up on charges.
    Having said that, yes, we should be more vigorous about border enforcement. I don’t think you’d find very many Americans who would disagree with that. It seems that part of AZ’s current problem is that stronger enforcement in CA and TX helped funnel border crossers to the more hostile, and less patrolled, terrain along the AZ border.