Saturday, April 28, 2012

Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona's new immigration law.. which is being reviewed by the Supreme Court at the moment, is an interesting piece of legislation. Regardless of the issue of Federal v State supremacy (the Supreme Court can answer this), the main contention surrounding the law is in its intent towards identifying and removing illegal immigrants from the US. Essentially, the law requires that if law enforcement officers have a 'reasonable suspicion' that a lawfully stopped person is in the US illegally, they must ascertain that individual's immigration status. At first glance this requirement seems troubling.. while most of us would agree that illegal immigration is not acceptable, the nature of this law raises the spectre that Hispanic Americans will be challenged on the sole basis of their ethnicity. However, ultimately this is an unfounded fear. There is clear constitutional precedence to show that an 'ethnicity' based stop would not be defensible or lawful. Under Federal law, 'reasonable suspicion' must be vested in an officer's articulation of specific facts that lead him/her to a suspicion of criminal activity.  For example.. on a hot day, a man wearing sunglasses and a sweater walks into a bank with his hands in his pockets. Conversely, the color of a man or woman's skin would not constitute any satisfaction of this requirement. If there was any suggestion that the color was the primary factor, the officer would face civil rights violation questions.
 So...... to avoid being targeted unlawfully under the law, any Arizonan could simply answer the questions of an officer in relation to that officer's investigation of the incident that lead to the original stop (for example running a stop sign etc)... and if the officer then decided without any 'reasonable suspicion' to try and find out the stopped citizen's immigration status, that citizen should just repeatedly ask for permission to leave. Unless the officer had articulable facts to justify his new 'immigration status' investigation, the citizen would almost certainly be allowed to leave. Unlike under English law, in the framework of US constitutional law, a hunch or a gut feeling does not constitute 'reasonable suspicion'. Arizona's new law cannot alter those rights. 

No American should ever be burdened under law because of their ethnicity.

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