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National ID Cards or Robocops?

April 30, 2010

About that Arizona immigration law.  It is, as far as I know, the most aggressive attempt ever made to attempt to stop undocumented immigration into this country since, well… the beginning of time?  There’s of course been a lot of brouhaha about whether or not it’s even constitutional, given that police officers now have the power to detain anybody they want as long as they have a “reasonable suspicion” to believe that that person is in this country illegally.  Byron York had an enlightening piece the other day which shed a little light on the law—apparently its “authors anticipated criticism and went to great lengths to make sure it is constitutional and will hold up in court”:

Critics have focused on the term “reasonable suspicion” to suggest that the law would give police the power to pick anyone out of a crowd for any reason and force them to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Some foresee mass civil rights violations targeting Hispanics.

What fewer people have noticed is the phrase “lawful contact,” which defines what must be going on before police even think about checking immigration status. “That means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he’s violated some other law,” says Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the measure. “The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop.”

That means that you actually have to be doing something that would incite contact from a police officer in order for this to come into play at all.  It’s not like the cops are going to go around doing Voight-Kampff tests on anybody who they think belongs in a Tijuana doll factory.  Of course, nightmare scenarios do still exist, as Yglesias hypothesizes:

This sounds like a declaration of open war on all Hispanic persons within the state boundaries. Suppose I find myself in Phoenix for work and I get robbed. I just might call the police to report it. Then all of a sudden we have a Phoenix police officer “encountering” some dude with a Spanish name and he needs to attempt to determine my immigration status. Well, I don’t make a habit of taking my passport with me. So what am I supposed to do? Call up CAP and have someone fax over my W-9? If it’s after business hours on the east coast am I going to be detained overnight.

I know a lot of people regard various “citizenship check” provisions to be commonsense, but asking people to be be able to verify their immigration status on the spot at any time is enormously burdensome. And in practice, it seems to me that it would just amount to large-scale harassment of Spanish-speakers and people with Spanish names, the vast majority of whom are legal residents.

That’s a really good point.  The feds have been slacking on anything resembling improvement on our undocumented immigration problem for years and years, so it’s not surprising that a state such as Arizona would try something like this (it already seems to be working—I don’t think the author of that piece really gets how much he sounds like he’s writing for The Onion).  Since it’s already been signed into law and I’m not from Arizona—rendering this situation none of my business—I’m not ready to really support either side of this equation, except to mention in passing that if the law does indeed produce results, that’s probably a major boon for poor native Arizonans as well as the state’s budgetary concerns.  Which is always a plus.  Democracies that don’t have national ID cards (which I strongly oppose) have to achieve some sort of balance—are we willing to accept the trade-off an empowered police force in favor of not having a national ID card?

I think the lesser of two evils is to just try to make sure you don’t lose your license when you’re in Arizona.  That sucks, but… deal with it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Brodice permalink
    May 4, 2010 8:22 PM

    Wow low key blade runner reference.

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