How to Explain Arizona’s Immigration Law

Arizona’s attempt to get tougher on illegal immigration is on hold. A federal district judge stopped key parts of the state law from taking effect. (Read the ruling, released Wednesday, here.) It seems certain that this case is heading for an appeal and likely won’t stop until the Supreme Court speaks to the question of whether a state can take immigration matters into its own hands.

CNN polling shows most Americans support SB 1070, while also saying it will create more problems for Hispanics and will not solve illegal immigration problems.

What the new law would have done

SB 1070 would make it a state crime for an immigrant to fail to show documents proving he is in the U.S. legally. The law also gives citizens the power to sue police departments if the local cops do not or will not enforce the tougher law.

Be careful how you describe the other major part of SB 1070.

Journalists, politicians, talk show hosts sometimes describe the law as “allowing” police to check a person’s legal status. But police everywhere are already allowed to ask questions now. Arizona’s SB 1070 says checking a suspect’s immigration status is a requirement, even though the law gets watered down by the phrase “when practicable.” I highlight that sentence in the bill’s text below.

The main section of the bill says:

“B. 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. THE
PERSON’S IMMIGRATION STATUS SHALL BE VERIFIED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
PURSUANT TO 8 UNITED STATES CODE SECTION 1373(c).

“C. IF AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES IS
CONVICTED OF A VIOLATION OF STATE OR LOCAL LAW, ON DISCHARGE FROM
IMPRISONMENT OR ASSESSMENT OF ANY FINE THAT IS IMPOSED, THE ALIEN SHALL BE
TRANSFERRED IMMEDIATELY TO THE CUSTODY OF THE UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION AND
CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT OR THE UNITED STATES CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION.

“D. NOTWITHSTANDING ANY OTHER LAW, A LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY MAY
SECURELY TRANSPORT AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES
AND WHO IS IN THE AGENCY’S CUSTODY TO A FEDERAL FACILITY IN THIS STATE OR TO
ANY OTHER POINT OF TRANSFER INTO FEDERAL CUSTODY THAT IS OUTSIDE THE
JURISDICTION OF THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY.

“E. A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, WITHOUT A WARRANT, MAY ARREST A PERSON
IF THE OFFICER HAS PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT THE PERSON HAS COMMITTED
ANY PUBLIC OFFENSE THAT MAKES THE PERSON REMOVABLE FROM THE UNITED STATES.”

Opponents of SB 1070 say people who are arrested on minor charges might be held for hours while local cops wait for immigration authorities to check their status.

The LA Times explains:

“What are police required to do under the law?

“If officers stop, detain or arrest people while enforcing other laws or ordinances and reasonably suspect they are in the country illegally, they have to try to determine their status if it’s practicable.”

“In other words, police don’t have to determine someone’s legal status if there’s a shootout going on. They also get a pass if inquiring would hinder an investigation — by scaring off witnesses, for example.”

“If police find that the people they’ve stopped are illegal immigrants, do the police have to arrest them?

“No. The law is silent on what police must do once they determine someone is in the country illegally.”

“What else must police do under the law?

“Anyone arrested in Arizona cannot be released until police check with the federal government to determine whether that person is in the country legally.”

“Some read this to mean that it doesn’t matter if suspects have birth certificates and passports — the federal government must confirm their status before they are freed. Others contend that the requirement only applies to suspected illegal immigrants.”

“Also, authorities must alert the federal government when any illegal immigrant convicted of a crime of any severity is released from custody or pays a fine to resolve a case.”

“Are police required to turn convicted illegal immigrants over to the federal government?

“No, just to notify federal immigration agents.”

Groups have threatened boycotts of Arizona, but hotel occupancy is actually going up there, not down. Hotel and convention experts say the real cancellations may not show up until next year.

On the Web
All sides of this debate are represented online, and their sites will be buzzing today.

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