The Arizona Legislature has just stepped off the deep end of the immigration debate, passing a harsh and mean-spirited bill that would do little to stop illegal immigration. What it would do is lead to more racial profiling, hobble local law enforcement, and open government agencies to frivolous, politically driven lawsuits.
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The bill is a grab bag of measures to enlist law enforcement and government at every level to expose and expel the undocumented. Opponents say it verges on a police state, which sounds overblown until you read it.
It would make not having immigration documents a new state misdemeanor, and allow officers to arrest anyone who could not immediately prove they were here legally. That means if you are brown-skinned and leave home without a wallet, you are in trouble.
Police agencies that believe overly tough enforcement tactics are undercutting their ability to fight crime would have to crack down anyway. The bill would require police officers who have “reasonable suspicion” about someone’s immigration status to demand to see documents. And it would empower anyone to sue any state agency or official or any county, city or town that he or she believes is not fully enforcing immigration law.
The bill, passed by Arizona’s Republican-controlled House on a party-line vote, has already passed the state Senate and will soon be before Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican. She has not said whether she will sign it.
Immigrant advocates and civil-rights lawyers are appalled, and so are police chiefs and sheriffs who say the bill is an assault on public safety, since it would force newly criminalized immigrants to fear and shun the police. It would divert law enforcement resources away from chasing violent offenders, and toward an all-out assault on the mostly harmless undocumented, with the innocent as collateral damage.
It is now up to Governor Brewer to do what is best for her state: she should refuse to sign. If this dangerous experiment becomes law, Washington can still end it by refusing to cooperate, cutting off access to immigration records. Either way, it should cancel programs that enlist state and local law enforcement in the indiscriminate hunt for the undocumented.
The Arizona bill is another reminder why the administration needs to push for real immigration reform. The failure to address it nationally has left the field wide open for this