First of all, as any police officer knows, it’s difficult to discern the ethnicity of a car’s occupants while following it down the street. This is all the more true at night or, as is very often the case in Arizona, if the car has tinted windows. You might be driving down the street and see a police car in your rear-view mirror and assume the officer is looking for a reason to pull you over. In truth that officer very likely isn’t paying any attention to you at all. Instead he is probably thinking about where he’s going to have lunch, what he’s going to do after work, or what a jerk his lieutenant is. Only when a driver commits some violation of the traffic laws is an officer’s attention drawn to a car, and the occupants’ ethnicity becomes apparent only when the officer pulls the car over and asks the driver to produce his driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. When a driver has none of these documents, as most illegal immigrants do not, it seems only reasonable that the officer be allowed make inquiries as to the driver’s immigration status.
I suspect most otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants in Arizona will have little to fear from this new law, as few police officers will invest the time and trouble to detain someone who, though illegally in the country, is causing no trouble in the community. There are enough illegal-immigrant hoodlums to occupy the attention of the police that families need not fear being harassed on their way to the local ice-cream parlor whether they’re illegal immigrants or not. Despite the president’s dire warnings, I don’t envision stakeouts at Baskin-Robbins stores in Tucson.
And there certainly won’t be in those areas around Tucson patrolled by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik told reporters in Tucson last month that the new law “is unwise, it’s stupid, and it’s racist,” raising the troubling question of whether his deputies will enforce the law if and when it takes effect.
Dupnik’s opinion puts him sharply at odds with many cops in Arizona, like Larry Dever, sheriff of neighboring Cochise County. “There are people from all over this country#..#that are encouraging us to keep doing what we’re doing here and thanking the governor for signing that bill,” Dever said.
All of which points to the sticky politics in which police officers find themselves immersed when it comes to illegal immigrants. Here in Los Angeles, for example, police officers have been limited in what inquiries they can make regarding citizenship by Special Order 40, which was incorporated into LAPD rules in 1979. But, as I reported here last year, even when officers make perfectly legal and proper notification to federal immigration authorities regarding people who have been arrested, allowances to politics can sometimes throw sand in the gears. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is famously sympathetic to the cause of illegal immigrants — he addressed immigrants’-rights marchers two weeks ago, on May 1, as he does every year — so it’s no surprise that LAPD officers are sometimes discouraged from making even those immigration inquiries allowed under Special Order 40. Not that it could happen here, but imagine the dilemma for LAPD officers if California were to enact a law similar to Arizona’s.
Whatever the outcome of the challenges to the new Arizona law, this much is clear: With American businesses extending an invitation to low-skilled workers from Mexico and beyond, and with the federal government making only a token effort to keep them from accepting it, more states will consider enacting laws similar to Arizona’s. The problem isn’t going away.
– Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.