25 April 2010

Arizona's "radical" law isn't about new requirements - it's about enforcing old ones

I keep reading about the "harsh" new Arizona immigration law, passed as Arizona Senate Bill 1070. I think most people would be surprised to learn that many of the law's new provisions are not already the law across the land, and many opponents of the law would be surprised to learn that it simply does not do what they think it does.

In particular, virtually every opponent, from Saturday Night Live's Seth Myers to the New York Times decries the law's requirement to carry identification papers. The Times says it "would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime."

Only the law does no such thing. Nobody is required under Arizona's new law to carry identification papers at all times.

Now, it is a fact that Lawful Permanent Residents must have their identification ("green cards") in their possession at all times, as must holders of temporary work permits. But that isn't new, and it isn't a requirement of Arizona's law - it has been required for decades under Federal law, specifically, 8 U.S.C. § 1304 (e).

The Arizona law does list certain documents you can present to prove your citizenship if it is in question, including an Arizona Driver's License. That is not a requirement to carry such papers.

It should be noted, I suppose, that in Arizona, as in every other state in the nation, if you are pulled over while actually driving, you are already required to show your driver's license. There are no new provisions of law to make it easier to pull cars over, and no licensed driver will have his citizenship questioned during a traffic stop.

One new provision in this law is that police officers in Arizona, if arresting suspects for a crime, are now required to determine citizenship status of the suspect. Most Americans, I think, would be surprised to learn that this is not already standard procedure. In fact, though, in many jurisdictions in this country, police are specifically prohibited from inquiring into the citizenship of arrested suspects.

Think about that. In Arizona, police are now simply empowered, after arresting somebody, to determine who that person is, and where he is from. Pretty radical, huh?

Arizona's new law is only eighteen pages long. It does not impose any new requirements on citizens or legal residents, it only empowers state agents to more effectively enforce existing Federal laws.

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