US Senate Holds Hearing on AZ Immigration Law

Apr 23, 2012

The Senate Judiciary subcommittee took a closer look at Arizona's SB 1070. The law is designed to give police more power to detain and arrest those not in thge country legally. Schumer contends -- as does the Department of Justice -- that states can enforce immigration laws only with federal permission. But Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), noting that question is before the high court the very next day, said if the justices disagree, he will craft a law spelling out that Congress will allow state action only with an explicit agreement with the federal government, and with federal oversight.

"States like Arizona and Alabama will no longer be able to get away with saying they are simply helping the federal government, quote, unquote, to enforce the law when they are really writing their own laws, knowingly deploying untrained officers with a mission of arresting anyone and everyone who might fit the preconceived profile of an illegal immigrant," Schumer said.

That issue of racial profiling was front and center during the more than one-hour hearing. Former Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) said the law puts police into a difficult situation.

"Police officers are trained to profile behavior, behavior, not people," said DeConcini. "This law does the opposite. It profile people. If you have brown skin in my state, you're going to be asked to prove your citizenship."

Schumer said it certainly appeared that way. In a back-and-forth with former state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of the law, he noted that one section requires police to determine the immigration status of those they have stopped if there is "reasonable suspicion'' this person is in this country illegally. While the statute does not define that, the state Police Officers Standards and Training Board came up with a list of things an officer might consider, such as erratic behavior and refusal to make eye contact.

"The one that arouses my curiosity and bothers me is dress," Senator Schumer said. "What does an illegal immigrant dress like?"

Pearce said it's wrong to focus on just that one issue. He said the question of dress is just one item in a whole list of what an officer might consider.

"It's a compilation of issues that tend to raise the level of suspicion to the level of probable cause, not any one isolated incident," said Pearce. "This is just a list of things that lead you to ask questions."

And he said SB 1070 has nothing to do with race.

"Illegal is a crime, not a race," Pearce added. "It just so happens that 90 percent of those who violate our immigration laws come from across that southern border or are Hispanic."

He said the question of police enforcement simply involves officers using common sense, looking for what may appear to be out of place. But DeConcini, who used to be Pima County attorney and now serves on the Arizona Board of Regents, said all the rhetoric does not hide the true targets of the law.

"If anyone tells you it is only the gun and drug-trafficking criminals they are mistaken," the former Senator said. "SB 1070 targets those with brown skin. And in my state, those are my neighbors, my friends, successful business associates."

Pearce actually found himself alone in defending the law. Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the legislation, rebuffed Schumer's invitation to explain and defend the measure even though she is at the Capitol this week to attend the high court hearing. Matthew Benson, her press aide, called it a publicity stunt.