Sunday, April 25, 2010

Arizona - It's S'posed to be Nice There

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 issues the directive that "an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States" may be detained, penalized, monitored. etc. as the state officials see fit (read the full bill here). While I am a proponent of stemming illegal immigration, and I believe that those who are in this country illegally should be made to answer to the same laws that the rest of us must obey, this bill sets a dangerous precedent.

Section 2 allows that "A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, WITHOUT A WARRANT, MAY ARREST A PERSON IF THE OFFICER HAS PROBABLE CAUSE TO BELIEVE THAT THE PERSON HAS COMMITTED ANY PUBLIC OFFENSE THAT MAKES THE PERSON REMOVABLE FROM THE UNITED STATES." Not to beat a (very) dead horse but that phrasing is strangely reminiscent of some of the language from John Adam's Alien and Sedition Acts (1798):

That it shall be lawful for the President of the United States at any time…to order all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof, to depart out of the territory of the United States. (emphasis added)

While the constitutionality of the Acts was never decided in court (due to the fact that they expired upon Adam's leave of office in 1801) most historians and constitutional scholars believe that they would have been found unconstitutional; the reasons being that they appear to violate the First Amendment and - perhaps, as Thomas Jefferson suggested - the Tenth Amendment as well.

Of course, the intent of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was probably not to prevent slander against herself or her state, but to step in to enforce a law that she sees the federal government to be lax on. However, her decision to sign this bill - a bill which certainly does nothing to reassure civil rights advocates - may very well ensure that Congress, at the behest of the President, grants illegal immigrants some kind of "amnesty" or "guest worker" status. According to The Washington Times, President Obama stated that "the fact that states are taking the immigration issue into their own hands should pressure Congress to act on a broad bill setting out a path for legalizing illegal immigrants at the national level."

While many Civil Libertarians (?) are arguing that the new law "raises fears of racial profiling" they seem to be missing the point. Yes, Mexicans are now in danger of being stopped in the street at random, and true, a car being driven by or with a Latino looking person can be stopped for inspection. However, that is nothing compared to the precedent such a law sets for everyone. What would prevent the law from being read to allow for unwarranted home searches (or if it is impossible for this bill to be interpreted as such, an amendment to the bill that allows for such invasions of privacy).

While I am an advocate of upholding the law, there have to be some limits to the extent that a government can seek to uphold said law. While the argument has been made in the past - and will no doubt be made here as well - that "If I (you) are not breaking the law what do I (you) have to fear?" the concept that the government may simply pick random people off the street and interrogate them is a scary thought. And if the individual doesn't happen to have suitable ID on him can they be detained until such identification is produced? Will people be rounded up and forced to produced papers and if those papers are not readily obtainable what will happen to them? Will their families be notified of their whereabouts?

Not to trivialize the immigration debate, but this bill certainly goes about resolving the issue in the wrong way. It lets the Federal government off the hook ("we don't have to worry about the issue anymore, the states will figure it out") when it is the mandate of the national government to secure our borders. It angers a community that is quickly growing and does - whether people like it or not - contribute greatly to this country's economy. Further, it sets the precedent for detaining, arresting, and simply harassing people with little or no legally substantial legitimacy. Finally, the bill reeks of old-school fear-induced legislation meant to simply keep one ethnicity from growing or attaining political persuasion. I'm not saying that the people who are in this country illegally should be allowed to stay, nor am I saying that they should all be forced to leave. But I am saying that whatever is done must be in accordance with the US Constitution and must account for the livelihood, the welfare, the well-being, as well as the personal privacy and safety of those individuals and families that it may effect.

Bill 1070 simply is not a well thought out piece of legislation and will most likely be shot down by the Courts. However, for the time being, if the state of Arizona wishes to expedite the process of detaining illegal immigrants perhaps those who are in the country legally should simply be given some kind of identifying symbol to wear. An American flag on their shoulder, perhaps?


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