There is a lot of misinformation flying around the internet and the television airwaves about Arizona’s new immigration-enforcement law. Here are some of the things I’ve heard, or have been told, in the past two days.
- AZ police officers can approach anyone they want and demand “papers” from them.
- AZ police officers now have a license to harass anyone, citizen or not, who “looks Hispanic”.
- AZ police officers can haul anyone they want to jail until their citizenship has been ascertained.
Scary, huh? Yeah, I’d be a bit worried, too, if all I knew about the law I got from the MSM or, Heaven forfend, Al Sharpton. The fear has even gotten its hooks into smart conservatives like Matt Lewis who writes:
The problem, of course, is not what this law does to illegal aliens (who are, by definition, already committing a crime)—but what it does U.S. citizens—many of whom may now endure repeated questioning from police for merely walking down the street.
Much of the problem stems from the words, “reasonable suspicion,” which appear in the bill. After all, illegals don’t advertise their immigration status publicly, and while the law specifically prohibits the police from solely considering race, one can imagine the Arizona police won’t be pulling aside many Canadians, Brits or Swedes for this sort of interrogation.
More likely, the criteria for questioning will include both class and race, meaning that if a Mexican-American lawyer walks down the street in a nice business suit, he’s probably okay, but the law-abiding Mexican-American landscaper may get hassled on a daily basis.
Definitely scary. But where did Matt get the idea that his poor hypothetical landscaper was going to be subject to daily hassling? He certainly didn’t get it from the law itself (PDF Link).
You don’t have to read any farther than the second section to find out what police officers are allowed to do, to whom they’re allowed to do it, under what circumstances they can do it, and, most importantly, what is off limits to police officers. Here is the brief summary:
If a police officer comes into “lawful contact” with a person (because their job as a police officer requires them to do so), and the officer has “resonable suspicion” that the person is an alien or illegal resident, that officer must make a reasonable attempt to ascertain whether that person is in the United States legally. If, in the course of that “lawful contact”, the person provides an Arizona driver’s license, photo ID, tribal identification, or any other piece of identification for which they had to prove their legal residence when they got it, then that person is automatically assumed to be a legal resident.
Sounds pretty simple, yes? In reality, it’s not terribly different from what police officers already do in the normal course of their duties. Officers routines ask for identification from people they pull over on traffic stops, people they confront because of citizen complaints, and so on. All this law does is give the police the obligation to determine if the people they contact are legal residents of the country, so long as a reasonable person could suspect that they might not be. The law, as it is written, does not give the police license to conduct random roundups nor to roust helpless landscapers walking down the street. Police officers still need a valid “lawful” reason to approach anyone and they need to be able to give a “reasonable” reason to ask for identification. Joe the Hispanic Landscaper loading mulch into his truck at the local Lowe’s is proof from Matt’s “unprecedented” police power just like I am.
Byron York also covers this ground, and does it very well. I recommend his article as a calmative to any passions roused by articles like Matt’s. I’d also recommend that more of the commentariat actually read the bill before they leap into condemning it. They’re likely to find it a lot less than they think and not at all deserving of the hype.
Category: Our Melting Pot