Phoenix, AZ – That bill enacts the toughest state law in the country aimed at
illegal immigration. It specifically requires police, when
practicable, to inquire about an individual's immigration status
if there is reasonable suspicion the person is in this country
illegally. Signed just a week ago, the measure generated two
lawsuits Thursday, with other groups promising their own
challenges. Alessandra Soler Meetze, the state director of the
American Civil Liberties Union, said the law will lead to racial
profiling. She pointed out the law says officers can use race,
ethnicity or national origin in deciding who to question, though
that can't be the sole reason.
(SB 1070 will undoubtedly force good police officers to do bad
things. And the last thing we need here in Arizona is another law
that alienate residents from law enforcement.)
That point was accentuated by recording artist Linda Ronstadt.
The Tucson native said she learned a lot about law enforcement
from her brother, Peter, who was that city's police of chief. She
said he told her police can only protect people with the
cooperation of the community, something that requires trust.
(And he's also the person who explained to me that a bad law that
is hard to enforce and is not clearly written weakens the law for
all and weakens law enforcement for everybody. When Jan Brewer
was asked 'what does an illegal immigrant look like,' she said 'I
don't know what an illegal immigrant looks like.' Well, why is
she making this law?)
With legal challenges looming, the governor and state legislators
agreed to a couple of changes. One eliminates the ability of
police to use race, ethnicity or national origin as a factor at
all. The other is a little more subtle. The original bill said
police can question someone during any -- quote -- lawful
contact. That led to suggestions officers would stop people for
no reason at all. The new language says questioning can take
place only after police lawfully stop, detain or arrest someone.
Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said the changes
effectively reduce checking immigration status to secondary
enforcement. He compared that to Arizona's seat belt laws: Police
cannot stop a motorist solely because the person is unbuckled.
But officers can issue a ticket if the driver is stopped for some
other reason. Sen. Russell Pearce, the Mesa Republican who
crafted the original legislation -- and who agreed to the changes
-- doesn't see it quite that way.
(I'm not going to debate with the governor. I'm telling you the
intent of the bill is any legitimate contact. And we've just
defined it. They can take action. All we're trying to do is erase
the erroneous garbage that's been put out there about profiling.
It's clarification language. The bill is just as tough as it was
before. On any legitimate contact they have. We're just trying to
define it so people understand.)
It's doubtful the changes will convince anyone to drop the
lawsuits. Richard Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal
Defense and Educational Fund, said profiling is only one issue.
He said the state law intrudes into an area where it cannot
(If implemented, Arizona's law would pervert our national
constitutional design under which the right and authority to
regulate immigration that belongs exclusively for the federal
The law has provoked a more personal reaction from some. That
includes Richard Chavez, brother of Hispanic civil rights leader
Cesar Chavez. At a press conference Thursday, Chavez said he was
born in this state, spent his whole life trying to gain the
rights of a full-fledged citizen, and was proud of being an
Arizonan. Then came this new law.
(What's happening here today I'm not that proud any more. What's
happening here in the present, I'm a little ashamed of what's
happening in my state where I was born. So, anyway, I just wanted
to tell you I'm here in support to be against this vicious,
racist, fascist bill.)
It isn't clear how soon a judge will hear legal arguments. For
Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.