This article is reprinted from City Journal
Supporters of Arizona’s new law strengthening immigration enforcement in the state should take heart from today’s New York Times editorial blasting it. “Stopping Arizona” contains so many blatant falsehoods that a reader can be fully confident that the law as actually written is a reasonable, lawful response to a pressing problem. Only by distorting the law’s provisions can the Times and the law’s many other critics make it out to be a racist assault on fundamental American rights.
The law, SB 1070, empowers local police officers to check the immigration status of individuals whom they have encountered during a “lawful contact,” if an officer reasonably suspects the person stopped of being in the country illegally, and if an inquiry into the person’s status is “practicable.” The officer may not base his suspicion of illegality “solely [on] race, color or national origin.” (Arizona lawmakers recently amended the law to change the term “lawful contact” to “lawful stop, detention or arrest” and deleted the word “solely” from the phrase regarding race, color, and national origin. The governor is expected to sign the amendments.) The law also requires aliens to carry their immigration documents, mirroring an identical federal requirement. Failure to comply with the federal law on carrying immigration papers becomes a state misdemeanor under the Arizona law.
Good luck finding any of these provisions in the Times’s editorial. Leave aside for the moment the sweeping conclusions with which the Times begins its screed—such gems as the charge that the law “turns all of the state’s Latinos, even legal immigrants and citizens, into criminal suspects” and is an act of “racial separation.” Instead, let’s see how the Times characterizes the specific legislative language, which is presumably the basis for its indictment.
The paper alleges that the “statute requires police officers to stop and question anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant.” False. The law gives an officer the discretion, when practicable, to determine someone’s immigration status only after the officer has otherwise made a lawful stop, detention, or arrest. It does not allow, much less require, fishing expeditions for illegal aliens. But if, say, after having stopped someone for running a red light, an officer discovers that the driver does not have a driver’s license, does not speak English, and has no other government identification on him, the officer may, if practicable, send an inquiry to his dispatcher to check the driver’s status with a federal immigration clearinghouse.
The Times then alleges that the law “empower[s] police officers to stop anyone they choose and demand to see papers.” False again, for the reasons stated above. An officer must have a lawful, independent basis for a stop; he can only ask to see papers if he has “reasonable suspicion” to believe that the person is in the country illegally. “Reasonable suspicion” is a legal concept of long-standing validity, rooted in the Constitution’s prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures.” It meaningfully constrains police activity; officers are trained in its contours, which have evolved through common-law precedents, as a matter of course. If the New York Times now thinks that the concept is insufficient as a check on police power, it will have to persuade every court and every law enforcement agency in the country to throw out the phrase—and the Constitution with it—and come up with something that suits the Times’s contempt for police power.
On broader legal issues, the Times is just as misleading. The paper alleges that the “Supreme Court has consistently ruled that states cannot make their own immigration laws.” Actually, the law on preemption is almost impossibly murky. As the Times later notes in its editorial, the Justice Department ruled in 2002, after surveying the relevant Supreme Court and appellate precedents, that “state and local police had ‘inherent authority’ to make immigration arrests.” The paper does not like that conclusion, but it has not been revoked as official legal advice. If states have inherent authority to make immigration arrests, they can certainly do so under a state law that merely tracks the federal law requiring that immigrants carry documentation.
The Times tips its hand at the end of the editorial. It calls for the Obama administration to end a program that trains local law enforcement officials in relevant aspects of immigration law and that deputizes them to act as full-fledged immigration agents. The so-called 287(g) program acts as a “force multiplier,” as the Times points out, adding local resources to immigration law enforcement—just as Arizona’s SB 1070 does. At heart, this force-multiplier effect is what the hysteria over Arizona’s law is all about: SB 1070 ups the chances that an illegal alien will actually be detected and—horror of horrors—deported. The illegal-alien lobby, of which the New York Times is a charter member, does not believe that U.S. immigration laws should be enforced. Usually unwilling for political reasons to say so explicitly, the lobby comes up with smoke screens—such as the Times’s demagogic charges about SB 1070 as an act of “racial separation”—to divert attention from the underlying issue. Playing the race card is the tactic of those unwilling to make arguments on the merits. (The Times’s other contribution today to the prevailing de facto amnesty for illegal aliens was to fail to disclose, in an article about a brutal 2007 schoolyard execution in Newark, that the suspected leader was an illegal alien and member of the predominantly illegal-alien gang Mara Salvatrucha.)
The Arizona law is not about race; it’s not an attack on Latinos or legal immigrants. It’s about one thing and one thing only: making immigration enforcement a reality. It is time for a national debate: Do we or don’t we want to enforce the country’s immigration laws? If the answer is yes, the Arizona law is a necessary and lawful tool for doing so. If the answer is no, we should end the charade of inadequate, half-hearted enforcement, enact an amnesty now, and remove future penalties for immigration violations.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal, the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the coauthor of The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s.