As we have all probably heard, the Supreme Court reached a decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 bill. While the Court rejected some of the bill’s provisions, it upheld the so-called “show your papers” provision which allows local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone who is suspected to be in the US illegally. Under this law, if a police officer stops someone for, say, running a stop sign the police now have the power (and duty) to question the driver about their immigration status if the officer suspects the person is undocumented. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer claims that the Court’s decision is a victory for those who wish to stop illegal immigration into the US. She also claims that police are not allowed to racially profile the people they question.
The $3 million question: How will police determine who to question about citizenship?
No one seems to be able to answer this question.
Gov. Brewer says that this law will “protect the citizens of Arizona” however Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor worries that police have been given no guidance on how to enforce this law. He also fears that people who don’t feel the police are doing enough to enforce it, as well as those who feel they were unfairly targeted, will sue the police departments. The possibility of police expending time and resources fighting law suits will reduce the amount of time police spend actually fighting crime. So, how does this protect the citizens of Arizona?
The fact that this law in effect requires racial profiling is cause for enormous concern. The fact is that police departments around the nation have had long histories of racial profiling – without the benefit of a Supreme Court ruling giving them license to do so. Police departments in New York have come under fire for “stop and frisk” policies. According to records kept by the police, in the first 3 months of 2012 89 percent of those stopped were in fact innocent. In addition, 87 percent of those stopped were either black or Latino (only 9 percent were white). Late last year a retired San Diego police officer claimed he was racially profiled when he parked at a court house. Charges of racial profiling by the TSA in our nation’s airports are commonplace. They have become so ubiquitous that there is now a mobile app to report instances of racial profiling in real time. The app, launched this past May, has been downloaded more than 10,000 times and resulted in 28 complaints in the first 10 days.
To hope that Arizona’s “show your papers” law will not result in racial profiling goes against all reliable data on how widespread the practice is nationally.
Incidentally, Arizona has spent $3 million so far defending SB 1070. The legal defense fund is provided by private donations but even supporters recognize that the private funds may not be able to cover the costs of future racial profiling lawsuits.
If Arizona really wants to protect its citizens, perhaps creating a situation in which tax payer money will have to be used to fight lawsuits created by SB 1070 is the wrong approach. Instead, they could use private donations to help make up their $1.5 billion shortfall – a budget crisis which includes, by the way, reduced funding for the police departments charged with implementing SB 1070.