A bill that would require local police to demand immigration documents and to jail those who cannot produce them must not be enacted into law by the Legislature and the governor.
The measure would turn legal residents into police targets, as well as those who are here illegally. It would foment racial profiling of Hispanics.
It would interfere with more important police work and it would give free rein to those who use emotional immigration issues for political gain. Do we really want our local police to behave as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio does, infamously putting immigration enforcement and raids ahead of crime investigations? No. We do not, and we must not.
The bill, SB 1070, would make it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. Local police officers would be required to question people about their immigration status if they had reason to suspect they are here illegally. Those who fail to produce documents could be arrested, jailed for up to six months, and fined $2,500, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
SB 1070 also would prohibit motorists from blocking traffic in negotiating for day labor on street corners.
The bill was passed by the Arizona House on Tuesday; it will go back to the Senate, where a slightly different version was approved earlier. Gov. Jan Brewer has not said whether she would sign or veto the bill. She should not.
Backers of the measure, lead by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, argue that because the federal government is failing to adequately police immigration, the state must step in.
We disagree. Immigration is a federal issue and properly should be enforced by the federal authorities. There's no question they could do a better job at enforcing the law than they are, and they must do so.
Civil libertarians and immigrant-rights groups say the Arizona bill will spur racial profiling. We agree, and we doubt that many of its provisions are constitutional.
"It's beyond the pale," Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. told the Los Angeles Times. "It appears to mandate racial profiling."
Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told the AP the bill is "giving police officers a green light to harass anyone who looks or sounds foreign."
She told the Times "A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be swept up in the application of this law for something as simple as having an accent and leaving their wallet at home."
At present, state law does not require police to check for immigration status.
While police unions support the bill, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposes it. The chiefs' organization said that it could erode trust with immigrants who may be witnesses. The group also warned that it would be too costly and would distract police from dealing with more serious problems.
Pearce told the AP that police can make a difference.
"I believe handcuffs are a great tool, but you have to put them on the right people," he said. "Get them off the police officers and put them on the bad guys."
We must not see Arizona devolve into a police state or a state where racial harassment and profiling is mandated by law. This is a bad bill and must not become law.
Arizona Daily Star