President Obama labeled it "irresponsible," Vice President Joe Biden called it "misguided," and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder threatened to challenge it in court. But experts tell Newsmax fears of massive racial profiling because of Arizona's new immigration law are largely overblown.
"The law, especially now as amended, says you can't just stop somebody because you suspect that they're illegal," Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies think tank, tells Newsmax. "It has to be in the course of normal police activity."
In fact, Arizona police officers will enjoy less leeway in enforcing the law than federal law officers already possess, sources say.
Last week, GOP Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer accepted amendments the state Legislature passed to ensure further that residency is questioned only after reasonable suspicion that another crime has occurred.
"So that if you pull over someone for a traffic stop," Camarota explains, "you have to determine their identity to issue a valid ticket. So in the course of that, if you discover they have no ID, and they say they have no Social Security number, they say they can't produce any other form of valid ID, now you have probable cause. And you can ask about immigration status and go down that route."
Pro-immigrant groups may find showing identification to police objectionable. But Camarota points out citations aren't enforceable unless a suspect has been identified.
"Any time you have a citation, you have to determine their identity, or the arrest and the citation are largely meaningless — especially in the case of a citation," Camarota says. "It's just common sense … otherwise you have a situation where police pull somebody over and they let them go only if they're illegal. Who would think that's a good idea?"
Former assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew C. McCarthy appeared to dismiss the racial profiling concerns on National Review's The Corner blog. "Contrary to the hysterical charges of racism being leveled at the statute," he wrote, "it does not permit a no-holds-barred inquisition of Hispanic people."
The Arizona law actually restricts police more than federal laws do, McCarthy says. Federal officers, he says, have authority to inquire about citizenship anytime they lawfully detain someone. But the Arizona law adds that there first must be "reasonable suspicion that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States."
Camarota says the Arizona law is specifically designed to avoid racial profiling, and was written to avoid a challenge on the basis that it pre-empts a federal law. This was accomplished by simply making a federal crime a state violation as well.
Camarota acknowledges the concern, however, that the law could lead to increased stops of Hispanics in order to verify their residency.
"Are they going to start stopping Hispanics a lot more for traffic stops, in order to check their immigration history?" he asks. "That I think is a potential concern. I think what the state needs to do is monitor that, and make sure that doesn't happen."
The ACLU and other organizations have announced they intend to file a lawsuit to block implementation of the Arizona law.
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