Arizona’s new immigration law has recently attracted a lot of attention, including a fair amount of criticism from people outside the state, many of whom may not understand the gravity of the security threat that we face at our southern border. Some of the charges have been quite alarming. For instance, President Obama has suggested that as a result of the new law, Hispanic Americans will now get harassed when they take their kids out for ice cream.
While there is room for reasonable debate on the best way to enforce our immigration laws, many of the claims being made about the new law are wildly inaccurate. I’ve studied the law, and it does not permit officers to arbitrarily demand proof of legal status from any individual at any time.
First, we should understand the law was amended after the governor signed it. Now, the most controversial provision only applies when an officer has arrested, detained, or stopped a person for violating some provision of law. So, before an officer can ask about a person’s immigration status under the new law, two things must have happened. First, the officer must have had a legal reason to have arrested or stopped an individual for violating some other law or ordinance — unrelated to immigration status. Then, in order to question the person about immigration status, the officer has to have a reasonable suspicion that the individual is illegally in the United States.
Some have claimed that officers will use race, color, or national origin to clear this hurdle. The new law, however, explicitly forbids the consideration of these factors, and the governor has committed resources to train officers about what are and are not lawful considerations. Finally, if and when an officer has met all of the requirements for legally asking about a person’s status, the individual can end the inquiry simply by producing a valid driver’s license or some other secure ID.
So it is hard for me to read the new Arizona law and conclude that it authorizes the parade of horribles described by President Obama and others. Unfortunately, the misrepresentations about the law have distracted from the bigger problem, which is the federal government’s failure to secure our borders and to enforce the immigration laws we already have on the books. This is a safety issue not just for our citizens, but also for those illegally here.
The government’s unwillingness to secure the border has created a thriving environment for human trafficking. Yet the rampant abuses that result from trafficking get little attention — certainly nothing like the outcries that have been organized over the new Arizona law. Just last week, nine illegal aliens were recovered from a drop house in Phoenix. According to police, the aliens were threatened, beaten, and held for ransom by their smugglers. These are true human rights abuses, and they are occurring with alarming frequency. In a recent two-month stretch, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reported busting 20 drop houses in Arizona, and this does not include the number of smuggling operations uncovered by state and local police.
Bottom line: the federal government has the obligation to secure the border. When it fails in that responsibility, state officials will react to their citizens’ demands for action. Their legislation should not be mischaracterized. In the coming weeks, I will write about the efforts John McCain and I have pursued at the federal level to secure the border and enforce the laws.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.