Arizona’s recently enacted immigration law, which will give local police new broad-reaching authority to enforce federal immigration laws, is a train wreck in process.

According to The New York Times, the law will “… require the police ‘when practicable’ to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization.”

It will further allow the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. And it will also open the doors for residents to sue cities if they believe that the law is not being enforced.

The 4th Amendment of our Constitution provides for “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and that these rights “shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Many Supreme Court decisions have established a standard for what “probable cause” means; that there is a fair chance of criminal activity, that a person has committed a crime, or that a person is about to commit a crime with a concealed weapon. This new Arizona law essentially makes a mockery of that standard.

Less than a week after the Arizona law was signed, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arizona and the National Immigration Law Center got to work to challenge the law in court, largely based on their claim that it violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government sole authority to regulate U.S. borders.

“The actions of the state Legislature and Gov. (Jan) Brewer are an unfunded mandate to Arizona police and are clearly rooted in concerns over politics, not public safety,” stated Arturo Venegas, Jr., former chief of the Sacramento Police Department and project director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative.

“No police officer should have to put arresting an undocumented immigrant over catching a violent criminal to avoid a lawsuit, and no victim or witness of a crime should be afraid to report it because he or she will be deported if he or she speaks”, he adds.

Venegas and countless other law enforcement officers believe that effective policing is based on community trust. After decades of police departments nationwide working to develop stronger relationships within their communities, many believe that this law will drive a wedge between Latino communities not only in Arizona, but around the country.

Add to this the fact that law enforcement everywhere is already under-staffed, under-funded, and under-resourced. Many officers aren’t even trained in the areas of immigration enforcement laws, standards, or procedures.

“Getting police officers involved in immigration work is not like training for traffic stops,” contends Dr. Richard Weinblatt, who is a former police chief and deputy sheriff and worked on the New Mexico border. “There are so many nuances to immigration law, so many types of status, classifications of people, different types of visas.”

This lack of knowledge has led to many American citizens being deported.

For example, in 2007, Pedro Guzman was deported to Mexico even though he was an American citizen. In 2008, Thomas Warziniack was detained in a U.S. Immigration and Enforcement detention in Arizona for weeks awaiting deportation even though a Colorado court had verified his citizenship.

“This law says that if the officer or deputy sheriff on the local level, a non-immigration, non-border patrol person, feels that they have developed ‘reasonable suspicion’ they are mandated to investigate, states, Weinblatt. “For most officers in the field, reasonable suspicion is a very gray area.”

The sad truth is that these kinds of laws will only exacerbate tensions in Arizona’s communities and result in more conflicts between individuals and police officers.

Police officers are being forced to racially profile, and many of the people they detain will indeed be U.S. citizens. If these people don’t have their papers, they can be deported.

In the end, there will be more police abuse and more public outcry and protest against it.

Whatever an individual’s personal feelings or ideology concerning immigration issues, the Arizona law is fundamentally wrong.

Playing cat-and-mouse with citizens’ rights under the guise of law enforcement is wrong.

Making the jobs of overburdened law enforcement agencies, struggling to provide basic services, even harder is wrong. And, widening the communication gulf between police officers and the communities they serve is wrong beyond belief.

Immigration in the United States is a sensitive and often- emotional issue. But, immigration reform measures that are insensitive to the realistic problems faced by communities, individuals and the agencies that serve us only make matters worse for everyone.

 

Leigh Donaldson is a Portland writer whose book, “The Written Song: The Antebellum African-American Press in the Northeast,” is due for publication this year. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]