Arizona Immigration Law Ripe for Abuse

Arizona Immigration Law Ripe for Abuse

Immigration is a sensitive issue, but the immigration bill that passed the Arizona legislature is the wrong way to try to solve it. The new law gives Arizona law enforcement broad new authority to enforce federal immigration laws. It is so broad, not to mention vague, that abuse of this new authority by law enforcement is assured.

The New York Times summarizes the new law: “The law would require the police ‘when practicable’ to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization. It would also allow the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. And it allows residents to sue cities if they believe the law is not being enforced.”

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Numerous Supreme Court decisions have defined probable cause to a set standard: that there is a fair chance of criminal activity, that a person has committed a crime, or that a person is about to commit a crime with a concealed weapon on his person.

This new Arizona law completely obliterates the concept of probable cause. Under the new law, it is now a misdemeanor to fail to complete or carry upon your person alien registration documents. In addition, the new law prohibits the blocking of traffic when seeking or offering day-labor services on street corners. This includes vehicle traffic as well as foot traffic on sidewalks. An officer under this law now has probable cause to stop a person for the simple reason that the officer believes there is a fair chance the person doesnt have alien registration papers upon his person or because the officer determines that individuals are blocking traffic.

This law not only encourages profiling by law enforcement, it forces officers to profile.

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon, who was the Mesa Department police chief, stated about this law, “This will further impact police departments already lacking the resources to do their basic job.” This impact comes from the fact that agencies can now be sued by citizens who believe the agencies aren’t complying with the law. The police chiefs who oppose the law are correct when they state that because they fear unending lawsuits, they will have to make immigration enforcement their highest priority. In a statement from the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, the group says, “The provisions of the bill remain problematic and will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner.”

Arturo Venegas Jr., former chief of the Sacramento Police Department and project director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative, had this to say: “The passage of SB 1070 in Arizona is a catastrophe for community policing, with repercussions that will be felt by law enforcement officials across the country. The actions of the state legislature and Governor (Jan) Brewer are an unfunded mandate to Arizona police and are clearly rooted in concerns over politics, not public safety. No police officer should have to put arresting an undocumented immigrant over catching a violent criminal to avoid a lawsuit, and no victim or witness of a crime should be afraid to report it because he or she will be deported if he or she speaks to police.

“This law will drive a wedge between police and the immigrant and Latino communities not only in Arizona but around the country. Trust between law enforcement professionals and the communities they serve is the cornerstone of community policing, and departments across the country have been working for decades to develop strong relationships with the community. Latinos and immigrants across America have been watching Arizona with fear, and will retreat deeper into the shadows now that this bill has become law.

“Today is a very sad day for the majority of us in law enforcement who believe that effective policing is based on community trust. I hope the federal government will heed this wake-up call and take long-overdue action for comprehensive immigration reform to protect our communities, and I am deeply disappointed in Governor Brewer and the Arizona legislature for passing this dangerous, costly and ineffective law.”

Law enforcement is already under-manned, under-funded, and under-resourced. In addition, many officers simply aren’t trained in immigration enforcement law, standards, or procedures. This lack of training has already led to American citizens being deported in the name of immigration enforcement. In 2007, Pedro Guzman was deported to Mexico even though he was an American citizen. He was found by his mother and returned to the United States, yet, despite federal attorneys verifying his citizenship the ICE spokesperson stated the agency still questioned the validity of the birth certificate.

In 2008, Thomas Warziniack was detained in an ICE detention facility in Arizona for weeks awaiting deportation even though a Colorado court had verified his citizenship. Just a few days ago, a truck driver was asked for his birth certificate while at a weigh station by ICE agents. When he was unable to produce it, he was detained by ICE agents and held at a detention facility until his wife arrived with his US birth certificate.

The system is simply so overwhelmed that there have been hundreds of cases where citizens have been detained as illegal immigrants and nobody is sure how many citizens were illegally deported from the country. This new law will simply add to the number of such cases.

The Maricopa Sheriff’s Department boasts that it has turned over 33,437 illegal immigrants to immigration authorities in Arizona. There are currently three US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Arizona. The ACLU released a report in December 2008 on the conditions of ICE detention centers in the state of Massachusetts titled “Detention and Deportation in the Age of ICE.” The report documented inadequate medical care, harassment and overcrowding. Now, imagine the current state of the ICE detention centers in Arizona and the impact this new law will have on those centers.

There is no doubt that politics has played a role in this new law just as there is no doubt that illegal immigration is a serious issue. The vote that approved the law went on party line with 17 Republicans supporting and 11 Democrats against it. Arizona US Senator John McCain stated, “It’s also a commentary on the frustration that our state Legislature has that the federal government has not fulfilled its constitutional responsibilities to secure our borders”. This swipe at the Obama administration by Sen. McCain is to be expected. Sen. McCain is facing a tough primary challenge and the Arizona Tea Party supports the new law. But politics alone doesn’t change the facts regarding immigration.

A 2009 Department of Homeland Security report states that 1,130,818 persons became Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) of the United States. Over 66% of these persons were granted permanent status based on family relationship with a US citizen or other LPR resident. Nearly 59% of these new residents were already living within the United States. This means that persons who have viable reasons to be granted citizenship and are waiting for their citizenship to be approved now have an increased risk of being deported.

Without additional federal funding, the poor conditions at ICE detention facilities are going to get even worse. The FY2011 budget only increases federal immigration funding by 3%. In addition, the FY2011 Arizona state budget will spend only $92 million on public safety with an overall budget reduction of $1.1 billion. At the county level, it is even worse, as the Maricopa County FY2010-11 budget is less than its previous year budget. There are simply no funds available to make immigration enforcement viable, and the new law only further strains existing resources. This strain is going to increase tensions between the community and law enforcement.

Increased tension in communities around the state will bring the inevitable incident between individuals and police officers. The new law makes it a certainty that officers will now profile those they stop. In many cases, these persons stopped will be citizens or in the country legally. There will be cases where persons don’t have their “papers” on their person who are then detained and possibly deported. As tensions further increase, there will be the inevitable incidents of police abuse. Community outcry against abuse and protests in the communities affected are all but guaranteed.

Regardless of a person’s personal feelings or ideology on the issue of immigration, I think we can all agree that there is a wrong way to attempt to solve the problem. Trampling on the rights of citizens in the name of enforcement is the wrong way. Putting further burdens on law enforcement agencies that are already struggling to provide basic services is the wrong way. Driving a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve is the wrong way. If you think that this new law doesn’t set the stage for abuse that can ultimately lead to violence, you only have to look at the Los Angeles riots after the officers responsible for beating Rodney King were acquitted.