The truth behind Arizona's immigration law
Lately it seems as though each day brings a new group or city council announcing that it will boycott Arizona in response to our state's recently enacted immigration law, S.B. 1070. Many organizations and individuals are jumping on the media-hype bandwagon rather than taking the time to read the bill and research the facts.
It is not just incredibly unfortunate that cities such as Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, which are far removed from the problems that we face here on the southern border, have announced boycotts against Arizona. Frankly, it's offensive. If such drug- and gang-related crimes were affecting public safety in Manhattan or Boston, East Coast elites would be declaring a national emergency.
But instead we have Attorney General Eric Holder, who, after criticizing S.B. 1070 and suggesting that the federal government may sue Arizona over the legislation, admitted while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee that he hadn't actually read the bill.
And then there is President Obama, who called S.B. 1070 "misguided" despite the fact that it mirrors federal law. After significant pressure to do something about illegal immigration, Obama pledged this week to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the southern border. But this plan falls far short of real border security, and the people of Arizona will no longer be assuaged by such symbolic actions.
Americans overwhelmingly support this law, according to polls, and at least 18 other states are considering adopting similar immigration laws. In fact, Arizona's state government has received hundreds of unsolicited donations in the mail from citizens across the nation asking us to use the money to fight illegal immigration. This sends an incredible message to our federal government that, until it steps up to protect citizens, states will have no choice but to act, as Arizona did, for our citizens' safety.
I hope the president, the attorney general and other concerned Americans read Arizona's legislation. If they do, they would learn that, as signed, S.B. 1070 mirrors federal law by making it a state crime to be in this country illegally, as has been the case in federal statute for decades. The trailer bill makes it crystal-clear that racial profiling is not and will not be tolerated. It also recognizes an established standard, "reasonable suspicion," for Arizona law enforcement officials to use when determining whether a person's presence is legal. This measure protects both the officer and the individual in question.
Furthermore, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order requiring the state to use representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train our law enforcement officials, ensuring they receive appropriate training to apply federal standards. In any event, the legislation clearly states that law enforcement officials "may not consider race, color or national origin" while enforcing immigration law.
Under the law, officers can only attempt to determine a person's immigration status during "lawful contact," which is defined as a lawful stop, detention or arrest. Any "reasonable suspicion" can be derived only through the investigation of another violation or crime. Those who are concerned that law enforcement can simply walk up to a person and say, "Can I see your papers?" should keep this in mind.
Even California, a state home to vocal detractors of S.B. 1070 and Arizona boycotters, has a similar law on its books. I suggest critics research California Penal Code Section 834b, which states, in part: "With respect to any such person who is arrested, and suspected of being present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws, every law enforcement agency shall do the following:
"Attempt to verify the legal status of such person as a citizen of the United States, an alien lawfully admitted as a permanent resident, an alien lawfully admitted for a temporary period of time or as an alien who is present in the United States in violation of immigration laws. The verification process may include, but shall not be limited to, questioning the person regarding his or her date and place of birth, and entry into the United States, and demanding documentation to indicate his or her legal status."
Arizona has plenty to do fighting the effects of illegal immigration. It's a shame that because of our efforts to protect our citizens and uphold federal law, we now have to fight ignorance, too.
The writer, a Republican from Mesa, is speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives.