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Arizona’s New Immigration Bill: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the Leviathan


                  Politics can be likened to a carefully planned, highly diplomatic version of a knife fight.  In this context, Arizona’s latest immigration bill is a well aimed stab through the heart.  The only thing is the victim isn’t who everyone thinks it is.  Although much has been made of the bill’s tough stance on illegal immigrants, the brunt of the strike is not for the illegal immigrants.  It is aimed at Arizona’s local governments.

                   This may seem like a strange claim given all the press coverage about the bills harsh effects on illegal immigrants.   However, on closer inspection, the attacks on illegal immigrants aren’t as serious as they first appear –  they’re really just flesh wounds with no lasting effects.    

                  Take, for example, the provision of the bill that allows officers to “make a reasonable effort to verify a person’s immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion that they are in Arizona illegally[1] [2].”   This provision of the bill does nothing to change the law; it merely restates the existing law.  The United States Supreme Court has already ruled that police may investigate any individual whom they reasonably suspect to be violating the law[3].   However by restating it only with regard to illegal immigrants, it has garnered a lot of media attention[4].    

                  Also take  the provision allowing police to perform a warrantless arrest of any individual whom they have probable cause to believe is in the country illegally[5].  The media has made must of this provision[6].  However, the United States Supreme Court has already ruled that warrantless arrests are legal[7].  The court has merely stated that it will scrutinize warrantless arrests heavier than arrests made with a proper warrant.  Again, this provision does nothing to change the law; it merely restates existing law in a manner that will garner media attention. 

                  A third provision that has received much media coverage is the one that states that police officers may stop a car if they have reasonable suspicion that it is being used to smuggle illegal aliens[8] [9].  The Supreme Court has already provided that police may stop a car if they reasonably suspect that the occupants are involved in illegal activity[10].  

                  Finally, there is the much written about trespassing provision of the immigration bill[11].  This provision decrees that anyone illegally present in Arizona is trespassing is liable for a 500 dollar fine[12].  This does change the existing law, and it is harsh change.  However, it will be difficult to enforce.  Courts already have trouble enforcing fines against documented persons who can afford to pay fines.  It is unlikely that undocumented immigrants most of whom do not have $500, will pay this fine. 

                   Arizona’s immigration bill is carefully crafted make it appear as if real harm is being done to Arizona’s illegal immigrants.  This is intentional; it’s the state government’s way of keeping everyone’s eye on the less popular illegal immigrant and away from its wanton battery of the more popular local governments.   

                   To understand this latest immigration bill, we must understand the vicious conflict from which it was spawned.   The fight began with conflicting state and local interests.  Arizona’s State Government has been under increasing pressure to deal with the illegal immigrant population.  Her cities, on the other hand, have large illegal immigrant populations and want good relationships with this population.   

                    Arizona’s cities instituted policies to protect illegal immigrants from Federal Immigration Laws.  These policies are not explicitly set out in any ordinance; they exist, instead, as shady unwritten rules.  For example, the congressional research service reported that the City of Chandler has policies that prevent local authorities from prosecuting illegal immigrants or revealing their identities to the Federal Government[13].  Watch-dog groups have accused Phoenix, Tucson and Mesa of having similar polices[14].      

                   Arizona’s State governments are left with the blame for the up-flow in immigration caused by the latest immigration bill is designed to combat these policies.  The bill states that it exists to encourage cooperation between the Federal Government and various levels of State Governments to fight illegal immigration[15].   These objectives are accomplished using three innocuously worded provisions that tear at the local pro-immigrant policies.  These include:

1) A provision that no local government in Arizona may have a policy that limits the enforcement of federal laws[16].  This destroys the ability of local governments to prevent their staff from prosecuting individuals under Federal Immigration laws.

 2)  A provision that no local government in Arizona may restrict their personnel from communicating with federal agencies with regard to an individual’s immigration status[17].  This destroys the ability of local governments to prevent their staff from revealing the identity of illegal immigrants to the Federal Government.

3) A provision creating a right for ordinary individuals to sue a local government that restricts Federal immigration laws[18]. This provision protects the State government from having to enforce the bill against the local governments.  It empowers ordinary individuals to enforce the bill.

            While everyone’s eyes are on the illegal immigrants.  The local government gets it.  The bill quietly dismantles every local policy that could be used to protect illegal immigrations.  While this does little to address the larger problems of how America deals with illegal immigrants; it does address the more pertinent political problem of who takes the blame. 

[1] Arizona Senate Bill 1070 at 11-1051(b).  

[2] Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration, New York Times, April 23, 2010 by Randal C. Archibald.

[3] See Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

[4] Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration, New York Times, April 23, 2010 by Randal C. Archibald.

[5] Arizona Senate Bill 1070, 11-1051(e).

[6] Arizona Signs in tough immigration bill despite criticism, BBC News, Updated Friday April 23, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8641346.stm.

[7] See Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89 (1964).

[8] Arizona Senate Bill 1070, 12-2319(e).

[9] Arizona Immigration Enforcement Bill Stirs National Debate. Fox News,  Aril 20 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/04/20/arizona-immigration-enforcement-stirs-national-debate/.

[10] See Michigan v. Long 463 U.S. 1032 (1983).

[11] Legalizing Racial profiling? Arizona Immigration Bill draws fire, ABC News, April 22, 2010, by Huna Kahn.

[12] Arizona Senate Bill 1070, 13-1509.

[13] CRS Report for Congress: Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement, August 14, 2006, page 26.

[14] Sanctuary Cities USA, OJJPAC, http://www.ojjpac.org/sanctuary.asp, Steve Salvi.

[15] Arizona Senate Bill1070, Section 1. 

[16]  Id. at section 11-1051(a).

[17] Id. at 11-1051(f).

[18] Id at 11-1051(g).