By Sushila Rao
Police in Arizona—the busiest point in the country for illegal entry—can now begin conducting immigration status checks of any person stopped for any reason and suspected of being in the country illegally, after a federal judge lifted an injunction against the controversial provision of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 mandating such checks.
The precise text of the bitterly divisive measure, Section 2B, reads as follows: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of [Arizona] 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. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to United States Code section 1373(c).”
To its proponents, this requirement constitutes the crux or the “heart” of the law, as it is the most “effective” way to ensure rigorous implementation. This is premised on the arguably “cost-effective” nature of the “attrition through enforcement strategy” to curb illegal immigration.
However, the provision also portends the danger of grave civil rights abuses. Civil and immigrant rights groups denounce the law for “inviting racial profiling against people of color by law enforcement in violation of the equal protection guarantee” of the Fourteenth Amendment. The danger is self-evident, so much so that it perhaps even rises to the level of being an instance of conscious racial hostility and discriminatory intent on the part of Arizona’s legislature. For some, it is a throwback to the days of the infamous Chandler Round-up: over five days in July 1997, police officers on bicycles patrolled the city of Chandler, Arizona asking “suspected” Hispanic people to provide proof of citizenship, and arresting those who could not.
Supporters point out that the original Senate Bill 1070 was promptly modified by House Bill 2162, with the amended text stating that “prosecutors would not investigate complaints based on race, color or national origin.” The new text also states that police may only investigate immigration status incident to a “lawful stop, detention, or arrest”. Yet the widespread incidence of racial profiling of Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be “foreign” based on their appearance and/or accent renders such changes only mildly ameliorative, if at all.
In the interim, Arizonan civil rights organizations are attempting to help undocumented immigrants cope with the new realities of living in Arizona, by educating them about their rights and preparing them for routine interactions with police, such as at traffic stops. Most crucially, they must counter the prevalent misconception that undocumented individuals cannot claim rights protection. Themain thrust of the message: remain silent and ask for an attorney. A parallel civil disobedience-esque effort is also underway to urge people not to cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts—even if they’re in the country legally.
U.S. District Judge Bolton—who refused to stay the enforcement of this provision on Tuesday—had reasoned that the law’s opponents were merely speculating on the possibilities of racial profiling. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is currently considering a request to halt the provision.