Byron York on Arizona's new immigration law
Honestly, these people need to calm down, take a deep breath, and have some dip. Byron York breaks down what this law means and some people in Arizona would be wise to read what he has to say:
The chattering class is aghast at Arizona's new immigration law. "Harkens back to apartheid," says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Cynthia Tucker. "Shameful," says the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne. "Terrible…an invitation to abuse," says the New York Times' David Brooks.
For his part, President Obama calls the law "misguided" and says it "threaten[s] to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans." Obama has ordered the Justice Department to "closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation."
Has anyone actually read the law? Contrary to the talk, it is a reasonable, limited, carefully-crafted measure designed to help law enforcement deal with a serious problem in Arizona. Its authors anticipated criticism and went to great lengths to make sure it is constitutional and will hold up in court. It is the criticism of the law that is over the top, not the law itself.
The law requires police to check with federal authorities on a person's immigration status, if officers have stopped that person for some legitimate reason and come to suspect that he or she might be in the U.S. illegally. The heart of the law is this provision: "For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…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…"
Critics have focused on the term "reasonable suspicion" to suggest that the law would give police the power to pick anyone out of a crowd for any reason and force them to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Some foresee mass civil rights violations targeting Hispanics.
What fewer people have noticed is the phrase "lawful contact," which defines what must be going on before police even think about checking immigration status. "That means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he's violated some other law," says Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the measure. "The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop."
As far as "reasonable suspicion" is concerned, there is a great deal of case law dealing with the idea, but in immigration matters, it means a combination of circumstances that, taken together, cause the officer to suspect lawbreaking. It's not race -- Arizona's new law specifically says race and ethnicity cannot be the sole factors in determining a reasonable suspicion.
For example: "Arizona already has a state law on human smuggling," says Kobach. "An officer stops a group of people in a car that is speeding. The car is overloaded. Nobody had identification. The driver acts evasively. They are on a known smuggling corridor." That is a not uncommon occurrence in Arizona, and any officer would reasonably suspect that the people in the car were illegal. Under the new law, the officer would get in touch with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to check on their status.
But what if the driver of the car had shown the officer his driver's license? The law clearly says that if someone produces a valid Arizona driver's license, or other state-issued identification, they are presumed to be here legally. There's no reasonable suspicion.
Is having to produce a driver's license too burdensome? These days, natural-born U.S. citizens, and everybody else, too, are required to show a driver's license to get on an airplane, to check into a hotel, even to purchase some over-the-counter allergy medicines. If it's a burden, it's a burden on everyone.
Still, critics worry the law would force some people to carry their papers, just like in an old movie. The fact is, since the 1940s, federal law has required non-citizens in this country to carry, on their person, the documentation proving they are here legally -- green card, work visa, etc. That hasn't changed.
Kobach, a Republican who is now running for Kansas Secretary of State, was the chief adviser to Attorney General John Ashcroft on immigration issues from 2001 to 2003. He has successfully defended Arizona immigration laws in the past. "The bill was drafted in expectation that the open-borders crowd would almost certainly bring a lawsuit," he says. "It's drafted to withstand judicial scrutiny."
The bottom line is, it's a good law, sensibly written and rigorously focused -- no matter what the critics say.
I have quite a few friends in Arizona that run their own businesses, and they have grown to depend on the Hispanics who have come to Arizona looking for work, a better life, etc. They're afraid this law will drive away those people they have crafted their business to focus on. While that may be true for a minority -- a choice minority who are already evading the law in some way, shape, or form -- for the vast majority it won't be a big deal.
The police aren't going to be able to roust a group of people standing on a street corner looking for work, unless they're breaking the law. (Some cities in Arizona do have statutes forbidding day laborers within a certain area around a business; it is a trespassing offense.) No, this law is specifically crafted to verify a person's status, i.e., if they're here legally, but only when that suspicion is justified.
The police aren't going to be pulling over every Hispanic-looking individual to harass them. But if they do conduct a traffic stop, or they come upon someone they believe has violated the law in one way or another, then they have an opening to check on that person's status. But, as Mr. York points out, there has to be a reasonable belief that someone may not be here legally. In other words, it's up to the officer(s) to determine whether or not they'll check on the person's status. If they have a valid ID, then the officer(s) will likely simply issue a citation/ticket, and move on with no further inquiries.
This law was enacted because the federal government has dropped the ball on this issue. The governor and the state legislature acted where the feds have failed. This is a good law, a sound law, and one which should help us identify and deal with those here illegally. 90% of the people who claimed that they have read this bill haven't. In reality, they're running from talking points from the hyperventilating crowds. We have read the law, and we find nothing wrong with it. The error has come from those who are voicing an opinion in an ignorant fashion. And that goes double for the president sticking his nose in an issue that's none of his business.
I know I'm going to face a wave of criticism from those that I know here in Arizona because I find nothing wrong with this law. I know a lot of those friends are counting on this law to be struck down by the courts, but unless there's an activist judge out there, this will stand up to Constitutional scrutiny. Everyone needs to calm down. Hell, the law isn't even in effect yet. It doesn't take effect until August. And when it does take effect, I sincerely doubt we'll see jack-booted police officers rounding up illegal aliens in Arizona. Will the police catch a few? Most definitely. Will they be rounding all of them up? Not hardly. Will this have an economic impact on Arizona? Probably, but it won't be nearly as detrimental as the worker sanctions law, AKA the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) passed in 2007 was. That literally drove Hispanics, regardless of their immigration status, from the state which burdened the state's economy just as the recession across the country was ramping up.
Literally, people do need to calm down. Furthermore, those who are speaking about this bill as if they've read it and understand it need to actually read and understand this bill. Their rhetoric is over-the-top, and most of what they're saying isn't factual. Arizonans, in general, need to relax. If you have a valid ID, then carry it on your person at all time you leave your house/apartment. If you've got that, and you're fairly relaxed when approached by a police officer, you've got nothing to worry about. If you don't have an ID, get one. The bill lists the proper IDs police will accept. Those IDs include a driver's license, a state-issued ID card, a green card, a Consular card, a Mexico electoral card, a passport, a military ID, a tribal ID, or another valid form of ID approved of by the state. If you've got one of those, carry it with you, and you don't have much of a problem.
And Mr. York is correct in his statement that racial profiling is prohibited by this law. It is. Just because you look Hispanic, or may not be able to speak English, those aren't grounds to run an immigration status check. Will there be an occasional case where officers do that? Well, DUH! Police officers are only human, and if they do engage in racial profiling, they'll be reprimanded for that. And yes, we do believe that anyone who is caught, the first thing their activist attorney will do is scream racial profiling. But proving that might be more of a problem for that attorney than most believe.