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Nascent Police State: Stay Away from Arizona

Why Arizona's new immigration law is much more than an immigrant issue.

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Sheriff Arpaio’s Maricopa County is an extreme example of what can happen when police are given such wide authority to make arrests. Influenced by anti-immigrant activists, other state legislatures may pass the same kind of law. The Associated Press reported that a Texas legislator said she will introduce a measure similar to the Arizona statute. Cities and towns around the country have enacted or proposed harsh immigrant statutes.

I talked about this possibility with Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrants’ rights and national security for the ACLU of Southern California. He told me, “I think it does have implications beyond Arizona because the political sentiments that drove this law exist elsewhere, and that is why it is important to establish that this law is unconstitutional. If other legislatures recognize that, it should prevent them from copying it.”

Constitutional experts are divided on whether a court would throw out the law. Professor Hiroshi Motomura of the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, told The New York Times, “My view of the constitutional question is that it is unconstitutional. But it’s a far cry from predicting empirically what a judge who actually gets this case will do.”

That is why it is important for Congress to pass and President Barack Obama to sign a comprehensive immigration bill. It should give illegal immigrants a clear path to citizenship. The measure should also make it clear that enforcement of immigration laws is a federal matter, not something left to the whims and prejudices of local cops like Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

But this is much more than an immigrant issue. Giving police the authority to stop a person on the “reasonable suspicion” he or she is an illegal immigrant clears the way for the arrest of anyone from an American-born Latino doctor to an Indian-American professor to an English immigrant who somehow offended an angry, ignorant or oversensitive police officer.

Such statutes are a step toward a police state, and the president and Congress should get to work on a federal immigration law immediately. In the meantime, stay away from Arizona.

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