U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder questioned the constitutionality of Arizona’s new immigration law — before admitting he hadn’t read it. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just confirmed that the feds plan to sue to stop the law. And Mexico, whose president said Arizona’s law “opens a Pandora’s box of the worst abuses in the history of humanity,” recently filed a brief in U.S. federal court to side with the law’s opponents.
Is Arizona’s law, scheduled to go into effect next month, an unconstitutional assault on all things moral and decent? How else to describe the over-the-top reaction to — and the often completely false description of — the law by people who apparently neither read nor understood it?
A New York Times sports writer, for example, said, “The law makes the failure to carry immigration documents a crime and directs the police to question people about their immigration status and demand to see their documents if there is reason to suspect they are illegal.” Federal law already requires that noncitizens carry documents to prove that they are in the country legally. Arizona makes failure to do so a state crime.
What does the Arizona law direct the police to do?
The law says: “For any lawful stop, detention or arrest … where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien … a reasonable attempt shall be made … to determine the immigration status of the person.” This means that if you a) are lawfully stopped and b) a cop reasonably believes you may be here illegally, then c) the officer will check into your status. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through.
What is a “lawful stop”?
Lawmakers added an explanatory note to the Arizona law. It says, “A lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law.” This is important, and it’s ignored or mischaracterized by some of the law’s critics. The “lawful stop” — which may trigger a further inquiry about a person’s status — must be for reasons other than a suspicion that one is here illegally.
What constitutes “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal alien?
The Supreme Court has defined “reasonable suspicion” as “common-sense” factors that an officer must be able to explain. It cannot be a mere hunch. A bad cop can abuse any law. And yes, there are gray areas in this one. But officers operate under this kind of imprecision every day.
Can a person be stopped because he or she “looks” Mexican? Again, the stop must be for a reason other than a suspicion of illegal entry.
But after a lawful stop, can “looking Mexican” trigger the suspicion of illegality? The law says: “A law enforcement official … may not consider race, color or national origin in the enforcement of this section except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution.” Ethnicity or race can be a factor if coupled with, for example, the commission of a traffic offense while having no driver’s license or other government-issued ID and not being able to speak English.
What proof must be shown?
The law says proof of legal residence can be an Arizona driver’s license, an Arizona-issued ID, a tribal ID or a federal, state or local government-issued ID.
U.S. Attorney General Holder says the Arizona law “has the possibility of leading to racial profiling.” To repeat, racial profiling — using race or ethnicity as the sole criterion — is illegal under U.S. and Arizona law.
Seventy-three percent of Americans approve of “requiring people to produce documents verifying legal status.” Sixty-seven percent approve of “allowing police to detain anyone unable to verify legal status.” And 62 percent believe in “allowing police to question anyone they think may be in the country illegally” — which goes even further than does the Arizona law.
Yes, illegal aliens are humans. They also broke the law and cut in front of others who are trying to come here legally. Most illegal aliens from south-of-the-border countries are “unskilled.” They compete against unskilled Americans — often while taking advantage of taxpayer-provided education, health care and other benefits.
Many Americans are open to increasing legal immigration and to a temporary worker program — but the debate is pointless without secure borders. The Arizona-Mexico border remains porous and dangerous. And nearly half of illegal aliens enter legally but overstay — with little or nothing done to keep track of them.
How does Mexico treat illegals in its country from Central American countries? The president of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission once said, “One of the saddest national failings on immigration issues is the contradiction in demanding that the North (the United States) respect migrants’ rights, which we are not capable of guaranteeing in the South.”
Where’s Guatemala’s lawsuit against Mexico?
Larry Elder is a syndicated radio talk show host and best-selling author. His latest book, “What’s Race Got to Do with It?” is available now. To find out more about Larry Elder, visit his Web page at www.WeveGotACountryToSave.com.