The Governor of Arizona just signed a bill which, in the words of opponents, is the equivalent of the Japanese internment during WWII, the Nazi Nuremberg laws, and a host of other racist or allegedly racist wrongs which have been committed since the dawn of mankind. Cassy Fiano has a good roundup of the reaction.
I then did something almost no one else has done. Certainly not the people claiming the bill is racist. I actually read the bill, not just the news reports.
The bill does raise public policy issues as to whether we really want to enforce the immigration laws, but it is not racist.
The bill amends existing law to prevent the type of "sanctuary city" resolutions which have passed elsewhere in the nation which seek to restrict local authorities from enforcing federal immigration laws, reporting illegal immigrants to the federal government, and a host of other restrictions:
11-1051 A. No official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.What follows after this introductory provision are specific provisions which empower (but do not mandate) law enforcement to enforce the law, including asking for proof of legal immigration status if there is an otherwise lawful stop of the person.
Again, the law does not authorize unlawful stops, but only permits verification of immigration status once a lawful stop has been made (emphasis mine):
11-1051 B. For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state of a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of 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, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation....The law also does not attempt to supplant or expand federal law, contrary to what many people have claimed, and specifically states that it does not change federal civil rights laws (emphasis mine):
Nothing in the law authorizes stopping people because of their skin color. The law simply provides guidelines as to what is permissible in accordance with federal law, and the procedures that should be used.
11-1051 E. Except as provided in federal law, officials or agencies of this state and counties, cities, towns and other political subdivisions of this state may not be prohibited or in any way be restricted from sending, receiving or maintaining information relating to the immigration status of any individual or exchanging that information with any other federal, state or local governmental entity for the following official purposes....
K. This section shall be implemented in a manner consistent with federal laws regulating immigration, protecting the civil rights of all persons and respecting the privileges and immunities of United States citizens.
Could the law be abused? Sure, so can any law.
Claims of "driving while black" and other racial profiling have abounded for decades. But we don't eliminate the enforcement of traffic laws just because some police racially profile; instead we educate and discipline police who use racially neutral traffic laws for racial purposes. Why should the immigration laws be any different?
If you want to argue that the law is not sound on civil liberties grounds, do so. If you want to argue that as a matter of public policy local governments should not enforce the immigration laws, then make that argument.
But the one argument which is not legitimate is that the law is racist. Because it is not.
Update: In hindsight, I probably used the term "enforce" too loosely. The State of Arizona is not enforcing the immigration laws directly, it is reporting and/or turning over illegal aliens to federal authorities who then will enforce the immigration laws (in theory):
11-1051 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 on the assessment of any monetary obligation that is imposed, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement or The United States Customs and Border Protection shall be immediately notified.To the extent the bill does seek collateral enforcement such as through employer sanctions, it does so in a manner not contrary to federal law. So the Arizona bill does not, to me, present constitutional issues as to the supremacy of federal law; but even if there were a valid constitutional challenge, that would not render the bill racist.
Also, I have corrected some of the section citations and bill wording from the original post, none of which made any difference to the argument. There have been a number of different final versions of the bill linked by various news organizations, but the wording above should be the final final version.
Update 4-30-2010: The Arizona legislature is in the process of amending the law to clarify certain terms, which should insulate the legislation from some of the anticipated challenges. (h/t HotAir) For a discussion of prior Supreme Court precedent, proving that many of the claims of critics are outlandish, see Do NOT Read This Supreme Court Decision.
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