A law that basically makes a few small, carefully considered changes in police procedure, Arizona’s S.B. 1070, has inspired a vastly disproportionate response. Few laws have ever been so grossly mischaracterized by so many leaders on the left. From President Obama on down, they rushed to the microphone after it was enacted to hyperventilate about an impending police state in Arizona. Excitable bloggers invoked Jim Crow, apartheid, and the Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany.
Their charges are completely false. Most stem from misunderstandings, perhaps willful and perhaps merely ignorant, of what the law is about and how it works. The false charges have been numerous, but the three most common are the following.
First, and most outrageously, critics incorrectly claim that the law would promote racial profiling. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D., Ariz.) said this, along with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.), Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., D.C.), and the rest of the race-baiting caucus in Congress. But since so many members of Congress don’t bother to read bills anymore, their error was hardly unexpected. More surprising was the commentary from the country’s top lawyer. Attorney General Eric Holder sternly warned the nation on Meet the Press that the law “has the possibility of leading to racial profiling.” A few days later, when pressed about his comments in a House of Representatives committee hearing, Holder admitted that he hadn’t actually read the law. Another S.B. 1070 opponent, secretary of homeland security Janet Napolitano, says she has not read the law either.
If they had read it, Holder and Napolitano would have seen that S.B. 1070 expressly prohibits racial profiling. In four different sections, the law reiterates that a law-enforcement official “may not consider race, color, or national origin” in making any stops or determining an alien’s immigration status. With this language, S.B. 1070 goes to extraordinary lengths to protect against racial profiling; most state and federal statutes do not include such special protection in their text. In addition, all the normal Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protections against racial profiling will continue to apply.
Second, critics have declared that the law will require aliens to carry documentation that they weren’t otherwise required to possess. President Obama claimed, “Now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers . . . you’re going to be harassed.” The president would do well to familiarize himself with current federal immigration laws. Since 1940, it has been a federal crime for aliens not to keep certain registration documents on their person or not to register with the federal government. The Arizona law prohibits aliens from violating these federal statutes (8 U.S.C. §§ 1304(a) and 1306(e)). In other words, the Arizona law simply adds a layer of state penalty to what was already a crime under federal law.
For legal permanent resident aliens, the relevant document is a green card. For short-term visitors from a visa-waiver country (one of 36 countries whose citizens may visit the United States for up to 90 days without a visa), the relevant document is an I-94 registration receipt, which is placed in their passport at the port of entry. The consequences of violating the Arizona law are the same as the consequences of violating the federal law: a fine of up to $100 and/or imprisonment for up to 30 days. Any American who has traveled abroad knows that just about every country in the world imposes similar documentation requirements on U.S. citizens. It is hardly unfair or unusual to enforce our own laws on the subject.