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This is why I have a problem with the Arizona immigration law

May 19, 2010

Officers were instructed to arrest people for “blocking the sidewalk,” for not possessing ID (even while just feet from their homes), even for no reason at all (cops were told to “articulate” a charge at a later time). The cops were told to make arrests even if they knew they’d be voiding the charge at the end of their shifts. As a sergeant implores in one recording, “Again, it’s all about the numbers.”

About those numbers: While only about one tenth of 1 percent of the stops yielded a gun (at present it’s nearly impossible to legally carry a gun in New York), the practice has helped drive up the city’s marijuana arrests from 4,000 in 1997 to 40,000 in 2007. Marijuana for personal use was actually decriminalized in New York during that period. But you still can’t display your pot in public. So the police simply stop people, trick them into emptying their pockets, and then arrest them for displaying marijuana in public.


Blacks and Latinos made up an incredible 90 percent of the stop-and-frisks in 2009, yet the arrest rate among those stopped was about the same as that of whites. (It isn’t clear how many arrests led to actual convictions.) And while the city’s crime rate has dropped dramatically since the early 1990s, the stop-and-frisk phenomenon is relatively recent and growing fast. The rate has tripled since 2003.

The courts have held stop and frisk to be a lawful stop so under the Arizona law this is a possible outcome. I’ll let you guys hash it out in your own mind, but I have a lot of problems with policies like this.


11 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 5:34 pm

    I haven’t written about the Arizona law yet, because I guess, I’m sorta ambivalent about it.

    For starters, the idea that the law says they can’t “ask for papers” absent suspicion of another crime is ludicrous on its face. C’mon! When are “we the people” gonna wake-up to the fact we’re not governed (or policed) by angels? I know third-graders with more common sense. On the flip-side though, Arizona has the right to pass its own laws and I can find no justification for someone like me (living in MI) to tell them otherwise.

    The elephant in the room nobody is talking about though, is why immigration has become such a problem. Yes, our immigration system sucks. It’s government, what do we expect? But the real problem is our welfare state! That’s the elephant in the room everyone wishes to ignore. Welfare ain’t free.

  2. May 19, 2010 5:58 pm

    Responding to Jenn,

    Like I’ve said before, while I don’t agree with the root of the problem (legalization of stop and frisk) SB1070 is not what made that legal. As it is, you’d have to go so far out your way to play the law that way, and in any event it requires both checking in with and eventual transportation of any actual violators to the Feds. Knowing that, at the top, they’re not on board with the new law, which is only a demand that state LEO’s enforce laws already on the books anyways, means that in many events police are going to go out of their way to avoid immigration checks on non-violent offenders. To me this ties in with stop and frisk, because the ONLIEST place I’ve ever seen stop and frisk even remotely enforced (and we just don’t have a culture here in AZ that is as supportive of that type of policing as they do in NY) are in gang neighborhoods, which, given the odd layout of Phoenix (i.e. affluent neighborhood-mall-gang neighborhood-working neighborhood – affluent neighborhood – strip mall – gang neighborhood) are actually a real public nuisance as unlike a lot of gang neighborhoods nationwide, a majority of gang-related violence in Arizona is perpetrated on non-gang related individuals. Add that to the fact that nobody walks around in Arizona anyways. Too spread out and too hot most of the time. As a sort of response to both you and the CL, sure cops aren’t all MENSA members, but neither are they all straight out of “Serpico”, y’know?

    My friend the CL,

    I agree with you about LEO’s to a point. If you want to advocate improved screening processes and better overwatch, as well as moving them back towards the status of “peace officers” as opposed to “police officers”, I’m with you. But at this point, it is patently unrealistic to expect total RIF of police departments and a return to pre-1900’s policing. Not saying it would be all bad, I’m just saying that ain’t happening. Now, you KNOW I agree with you on the busted-ass immigration systems, and I don’t even want to get started railing on the welfare state because I’ll never stop, but suffice to say, having read SB1070 in its entirety and then going through the federal statutes it quotes and enforces (I’m a student, I’ve got time), I just can’t find justification for a constitutional attack on the law itself, nor, as a resident of Arizona, can I buy into the concern that it will lead to random street stops or racial profiling. Many local LEO’s are actually saying the opposite, that they’re only going to look for “immigration indiscretions” in violent offense cases and property crimes, which they’re able to do under SB1070.

    • May 20, 2010 8:14 am

      Hey, like I said, it’s Arizona’s law and Arizona’s business. There may be ample arguments in favor of the law, but saying the law forbids them of wrongdoing isn’t one of them. The law is constitutional, so that’s good enough for me. It’s a much stronger argument too. Very few people trust the police anymore. That’s the consequence of militarizing them.

      Our welfare state is the cause of the excessive burden of immigration. The War on Drugs is why the border has turned into a war zone. Until we start repudiating government, our problems will only increase. Unfortunately, it’s doubtful that will be taken seriously until it’s too late.

  3. jenn1964 permalink*
    May 19, 2010 10:34 pm

    As it is, you’d have to go so far out your way to play the law that way, and in any event it requires both checking in with and eventual transportation of any actual violators to the Feds.

    As I understand it the law as amended says that at any lawful stop, detention or arrest, immigration status must be checked if there is a question. A stop and frisk would fall into those grounds.

    Those types of laws (stop and frisk) are also traditionally used the most in minority neighborhoods which leads to de-facto racial profiling even if it isn’t an actual policy. That causes me a great deal of concern.

    If I were visiting AZ I would be unable to prove my right to be in the US under this law. I don’t routinely carry my birth certificate or my passport with me and my WA drivers license wouldn’t be acceptable under the list in the law.

  4. May 20, 2010 6:50 am

    I have two problems with this law.

    First, even though a cop can’t just walk up to someone and ask for their “papers” (they have to have reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime has, is, or is about to take place – and being not-white while speaking Spanish does not meet that criteria), it is estimated that the average person commits three felonies a day. How hard do you think it is for a cop who has any bias at all to come up with “reasonable articulable suspicion” to stop anyone they want?

    My second concern is exactly what Jenn is concerned about (though not specifically for me). My ex-wife would have a similar problem, being of Hispanic descent and speaking Spanish fluently. Even though she is a natural born citizen, an AZ cop who heard her talking to her mother (a naturalized citizen) could easily assume she might be illegal. Could she prove it? How long would she have to sit in jail before that proof was accepted?

    Because she is a natural born citizen, there is no law stating that she must always carry her ID (unless AZ has a law that everybody must carry a government issued ID, which I doubt). Does she get held until someone can bring proof of her identity and citizenship if some random cop doesn’t believe her? How long will it take for her to prove her innocence?

    Laws should always be considered with the idea that they will be enforced by your worst enemy.

    theCL: The fact that “we’re not governed (or policed) by angels” is exactly the reason a cop must have reasonable articulable suspicion to do a “stop and frisk.” Yes, something needs to be done about the illegal immigration problem. This law is not the way to do it.

    The idea that a cop can simply stop someone in the street at random and ask for their “papers” has long been abhorrent to American ideas of freedom. It should remain that way.

  5. xbradtc permalink
    May 20, 2010 10:24 am

    As noted elsewhere, particularly in The Corner, EVERY law has the potential to be abused. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pass laws.

    And is de facto racial profiling that big a sin if the almost totality of illegal immigration is from one race?

    • May 20, 2010 10:47 am

      As noted elsewhere, particularly in The Corner, EVERY law has the potential to be abused. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pass laws.

      Which is why laws should be considered with the assumption that they will be abused. The question to ask, then, is whether the potential benefits outweigh the potential abuses.

      And is de facto racial profiling that big a sin if the almost totality of illegal immigration is from one race?

      I would say yes, because of the history of abuse combined with the potential for abuse. Also, racial profiling also casts far too wide a net for the problem – I’d be willing to bet that the number of citizens of Hispanic descent far outstrips the number of illegal immigrants. It would truly become a “papers please” police state for Hispanic citizens, based solely on their race.

      • jenn1964 permalink*
        May 20, 2010 11:19 am

        First I am not sure that racial profiling is effective, every study I have seen indicates it isn’t , but this isn’t my area of expertise so if someone can prove otherwise have at it. I’m listening.

        Second, Yes every law has the potential for abuse, but some are more ripe for it than others and they should be given extra scrutiny. In my opinion this law just has too many weak points that makes it much more likely to harass citizens than actually catch illegals.

  6. xbradtc permalink
    May 20, 2010 4:54 pm

    Well, the AZ law uses language awfully similar to federal law. Where has your concern been for the potential for abuse at the federal level?

  7. jenn1964 permalink*
    May 20, 2010 5:04 pm

    I have exactly the same concerns about enforcement at the federal level with the caveat that as far as I know my WA drivers license will suffice for the Border Patrol. The question hasn’t come up since I started blogging whereas the AZ question did.

  8. Liz permalink
    May 21, 2010 2:20 am

    I have a huge problem with the Arizona law. I have bigger problems with the people opposing it, mainly because the Democrats seem to want an even more draconian biometric card system in place, and no one cares. Restrictions on freedom don’t become good just because they – allegedly – curtail everyone’s freedom.

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