The portion of the new law that is at issue states:
For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or 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.
What does this mean for anyone living in Arizona or who plan to travel to Arizona?
What this means is that if you are approached by an officer you will probably have to show identification or risk arrest.
Proponents of the law point out that it requires that the police be engaged in “lawful contact” and have “reasonable suspicion.” Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the statute, said that ‘lawful contact’ limits the application of the law because it “means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he’s violated some other law.”
This is not the full answer though.
‘Lawful contact’ could also be interviewing a witness, interviewing a victim, security detail and investigation among other things. Police engage with the public on a regular basis for multiple purposes. Not every person that an officer engages with is suspected of cimmitting a crime.
Some people have started to voice concerns about the implimentation of this law.
A police officer in Tucson, Arizona filed a civil complaint to challenge the constitutionality of the law. In the complaint he alleges that there is no way to enforce the law that would not involve racial profiling and stereotypes especially with respect to the highly visible and prominent Hispanic areas of the city:
“the skin color and/or physical features…the clothing worn by any person…a person’s linguistic capabilities in Spanish and/or English…listening to Spanish-language radio, watching Spanish-language television or playing Spanish-language music…the vehicle a person is in…the use of public transportation, commuter vans or commercial carriers…the license plate on a vehicle…does not provide any race neutral criteria or basis to suspect or identify who is lawfully in the United States.”
(For the full text of the Complaint go to: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/files/escobar-complaint.pdf)
In addition to concerns about racial profiling and police abuse, there are some real concerns that this new law could have some unforseen negative consequences. Critics have pointed out that: (1) it adds to the distrust that already exists between people living in minority areas and the police, (2) it will further marginalize a segment of the population already lacking in a public and political voice, and (3) it will impede the reporting and investigation of crime.
In low income, minority neighborhoods police already enjoy a healthy amount of distrust from the public. Police already have trouble investigating crimes because people are reluctant to help out of fear of deportation, harassment and retaliation from the criminals who live in the neighborhood.
Despite these concerns….
This new law enjoys a 70% approval rating by Arizona voters.
What might be fueling this sentiment?
Here are some statistics that might be on the minds of the citizens of Arizona:
- The federal government estimated that Arizona had one of the fastest growing illegal immigrant populations in the country, increasing from 330,000 in 2000 to 560,000 by 2008.
- The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has found that 22 percent of felonies in the county are committed by illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants are estimated to be 10 percent of the county’s adult population.
- Analysis of data from State Criminal Alien Assistance Program showed that illegal immigrants were 11 percent of the state’s prison population. Illegal immigrants were estimated to be 8 percent of state’s adult population at the time of the analysis.
- In 2007, the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that 12 percent of workers in the Arizona are illegal immigrants.
- In 2007, the Center estimated that illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) comprise one-fifth of those in the state living in poverty, one-third of those without health insurance, and one out of six students in the state’s schools.
Throughout American history citizens have sometimes enacted laws a s a gut reaction to fear or hot button topics. Prohibition and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II are just two examples. It is yet to be seen how the passage of time will affect our view of this new law. We have yet to see how Courts will apply this law to the facts of individual cases and we are likely a number of years from a final decision regarding the constitutionality of the law. For the moment we have to rely on the police officers entrusted with enforcement of the law do so with fairness and discretion.
For more facts and statistics check out:
Center for Immigration Studies
Population Estimates http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ois_ill_pe_2008.pdf