(Edit: If you aren’t going to read this very long post, then at least let Colbert explain.)
I’m sorry I haven’t posted yet on the new Arizona immigration law. I know it’s made national news and has people telling me to leave Arizona and not look back. Most of the articles about it, like those printed in the Huffington Post, the New York Times, and yes, Fox News, make it sound like the state is going to become a mess of racial profiling and random arrests. I’ve heard plenty of references to Nazi Germany and Apartheid in South Africa. Personally, I’m pretty nervous about it, but I’m still undecided on exactly how upset I am. I’ve been reading and re-reading the actual text of the bill, because I still hold out hope that there’s no way this is actually as bad as the news says it is. I’m hoping that it has been sensationalized for the public, because I still have some faith that my legislators are at least a little sane.
The short version of the story is that Arizona is exhausted from trying to handle illegal immigration and doesn’t feel like the federal government is doing enough to help. This law takes matters into our own hands by calling it trespassing to be in the state (on public or private land) illegally. It gives local police a wider power to check immigration status and pass illegal aliens on to the federal government. (If the law passes constitutional muster, it will be because all matters are sent on to federal authorities, which is who is supposed to deal with illegal immigration anyway.) It makes it illegal for illegal aliens to work here, and illegal to pick up day laborers (if your car is blocking traffic). Police officers can stop people who they suspect of smuggling “for profit or commercial purpose.” It makes it illegal to entrap employers into hiring illegal aliens, and also requires that they keep records of the e-verification hiring process. It also establishes the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission Fund, which takes the fines collected according to this bill.
But none of that is what’s infuriating people. Everyone I’ve talked to is panicked over two parts. The first is that police officers can randomly stop people and demand papers, which sounds like a slippery slope. (No, Governor Brewer, calling for good anti-racial-profiling training for cops is not reassuring me.) It also makes it illegal to transport or hide people if you know they are here unlawfully. These are the two really controversial parts because most people know that something needs to be done about illegal immigration in our financially-strapped state, but no one wants it to be this broad and extreme. We don’t want to all have to carry papers around, and we don’t want our cars impounded for giving a friend/a family member/a date/a student a ride home.
Here’s where I wish I were a lawyer. I can read this bill a million times, but I can’t figure out exactly how severe these two big parts are. First, the random stopping: police with “reasonable suspicion” can check immigration status… but only during “lawful contact”. WHAT ON EARTH COUNTS AS LAWFUL CONTACT? Can they just stop me walking down the street, like we’re all afraid of? Or do they have to be arresting me for something first?
The second is that it is “unlawful for a person who is in violation of a criminal offense to” transport or hide illegal aliens. Does that mean I already have to be doing something wrong, so if I’m driving an illegal student home and a cop stops me for speeding, then they can also impound my car for transporting? Or does that mean that just by doing the transporting, I am automatically in violation?
True, the interpretation here would not determine whether or not I like the law, but it would make a big difference in how powerful it turns out to be. It would also make a big difference in how I explain their rights to my panicked students. If there are any lawyers out there reading this (or anyone better at googling “lawful contact” than I am… or just anyone with an opinion), I’d love to know what you think.