By Michael Bryan
Many folks are understandably upset that SB1070, the "show me your papers" law, will lead to racial profiling and widespread harassment of Arizonans who happen to be Hispanic. While that may or may not be true – whether that happens largely depends on the agenda and inclinations of the individual officers in the field and the political agenda of the leadership of some police agencies (i.e., Sheriffs Arpaio and Babeu)- that is not the most salient reason why Arizona's citizens should be concerned about SB1070.
The real reason for concern is that SB1070 will mandate that any citizen is arrested for any crime, including misdemeanors, cannot be released until his immigration status is verified – even if he has identification that says he is a citizen.
You read that right: American citizens accused of any crime will languish in jail while authorities try to get La Migra to verify their status – or in practical terms, verify that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hasn't any record of that citizen.
Here's the operative language from the pending A.R.S. 11-1051:
"Any person who is arrested shall have the person's immigration status determined before the person is released. The person's immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to United States code section 1373(c)."
AZ POST (Arizona Police Officer Standards and Training Board) has finished reviewing the SB1070 package of legislation and determined that Arizona's officers will be trained that the law means exactly what it says: every person arrested must have their citizenship status verified by the Federal government before they may be released. It doesn't matter if the arrested person has what SB1070 deems "presumptive identification", such as an Arizona Driver License, Arizona ID, or tribal enrollment card; those IDs do not verify citizenship – only ICE can do that.
Presumptive IDs will keep you out of dutch if you haven't committed any crime or just have a civil traffic violation, but once you are arrested for any crime, even a misdemeanor like driving on a suspended license, drinking in public, or trespassing, your ID is irrelevant and ICE must verify your immigration status. Even if you aren't an immigrant. Welcome to the wonderful world of poorly drafted legislation.
If every arrestee in Arizona has to be verified by ICE before release, that means hundreds of thousands of people a year in Arizona will have to be cleared by ICE. Most of them will be American citizens who haven't any ICE record. American citizens who would normally be given a appearance ticket and released may instead sit in jails across Arizona for hours, or even days, as authorities attempt to verify their immigration status with an ICE bureaucracy that is completely unprepared to meet the demand. With the Federal government none too keen on Arizona's little foray into immigration enforcement, who knows but that they may just stop answering the phone when the caller ID shows an Arizona area code?
Not every police agency in Arizona agrees with AZ POST's plain-meaning interpretation. Already, a few Phoenix Metro-area police agencies have indicated that they do not believe that every arrestee must have their status verified by ICE before release and plan to only verify status on people whom they actually book into jail, not those who would normally be cited and released at the scene. That's still a heck of a lot of folks.
Of course, ICE will not have records of American citizens. But they also won't have any record of undocumented aliens who have never had contact with ICE. Given the prevalence of identity theft, it may be challenge for authorities to tell the difference between those two groups. A lot of people who are here illegally are simply not going to be detected by a cursory check with ICE, which will quickly become the norm.
In short, the only folks that status verification is likely to catch are those who repeat entrants that ICE has encountered before and people who have over-stayed their visas. The price that we pay for this rather loose net? Putting the vast majority of arrestees who are American citizens through a lot of inconvenience and delay and costing the taxpayers a whole heap of money to house those folks in our county jails while they are waiting to be verified instead of citing and releasing them.
As a short-hand for the scale of the issue consider that Tucson police made over 50,000 criminal arrests last year. Currently, most of those folks get an appearance ticket and are released at the scene. SB1070 will probably make that impossible. Booking a person into jail costs the city $200. You can do the very scary math, and consider that scale of expenditure across the entire state during a recession. SB1070 is a major unfunded mandate on Arizona's cities and counties.
Another group that will feel the pinch with the day-to-day practicalities of enforcing SB1070 is citizens of surrounding states traveling in Arizona. Most of them won't even have the dubious protection of presumptive identification since many of their states' driver's licenses don't qualify under SB1070. The result will be a lot of needless arrests and a lot of jail time served by out-of-state arrestees who otherwise would have just received an appearance ticket. If I were them, I might just stay home or decide to spend my tourism dollars elsewhere.
The practical considerations of enforcing this very poorly drafted, and poorly considered piece of legislation are daunting – and far more damaging to our citizens' freedoms and well-being than the threat of systemic racial profiling, or of undocumented immigrants living and working in our communities, or of rogue police officers (or fear-mongering politicians in police uniforms) seeking to bash those undocumented immigrants for political gain rather than keeping our communities safe from crime.
Well, OK, maybe that last one is a serious threat to our way of life.