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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Arizona Immigration Bill Allows|Fine for a ‘Gesture or a Nod’

PHOENIX (CN) - An Arizona bill that gives local police departments the power to enforce immigration laws and conduct warrantless searches of vehicles if an officer has a "reasonable suspicion" that the occupants have no papers will return to the state Senate on Monday for reconciliation after both houses approved it. Among the bill's provisions: Workers may be fined if they seek work with a "gesture or a nod."

Civil libertarians denounce the bill as unconstitutional. Republicans - who accounted for all the "Yes" votes in the party-line, 35-21 vote in the Arizona House - say the bill is needed because the federal government is not doing its job.

Immigration is a federal concern and Draconian state and local laws attempting to regulate such - such as Farmers Branch, Texas' three attempts to make it illegal to rent apartments to undocumented people - have repeatedly been thrown out as unconstitutional. But that hasn't stopped Arizona from trying.

The bill, written by state Rep. Russell Pearce, requires police officers to determine the immigration status of a person if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country illegally, and to check their status with the federal government.

It gives officers the right to conduct warrantless arrests of such people and to stop any car if they suspect that the driver committed a civil traffic violation and is smuggling humans.

It creates a new misdemeanor: failure to complete or carry an alien registration document, punishable by up to 6 months in jail time and a $500 fine for a first offense. A second offense is a felony with a $1,000 fine.

The bill also makes hiring day laborers a misdemeanor if the driver or worker block the "normal movement of traffic."

Workers may be fined if they solicit work verbally, or with a "gesture or a nod."

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says that his office has been planning to enforce of the new law by providing almost 900 deputies with training on how to detect and arrest illegal aliens.

That alarms some civil libertarians.

"Our biggest concern is that we are giving local police, untrained in the complexity of immigration law, the green light to arrest someone that looks and sounds foreign," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. The bill "specifically singles out the failure to carry ID as proof you are undocumented. Citizens will have to carry their papers at all times."

The ACLU released a 5-page analysis detailing its problems with the bill.

The bill is called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act."

"There are already laws on the books that address obstructing traffic, so adding this is unnecessary" said Soler Meetze. "The bill is targeting someone just for soliciting employment, which violates the day laborers' right to free speech."

Citizens who encourage "illegal aliens" to enter the country will be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine. Vehicles used to transport or hide undocumented immigrants will be impounded.

The bill gives any person the power to sue a city, town or county for failing to enforce it.

Police officers will be indemnified for costs and attorneys' fees connected with any lawsuits brought by citizens who were wrongfully questioned or arrested, unless the officer acted in bad faith.

Dan Stern, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes immigration, called the bill "a no-nonsense, common-sense example of a state acting where the federal government is failing, a reaction to the inaction in Washington."

"Making it tough for illegal aliens to live and work in Arizona means that those illegal aliens already living in the state are more likely to self-deport, and it certainly reduces the incentive to come," Stern said in a statement.

Employers will be required to keep records of verification of eligibility for the duration of an employee's employment, or for at least three years, whichever is longer.

"Arizona is on the verge of enacting the most anti-immigrant legislation the country has seen in a generation," said Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

"We are hopeful Governor [Jan] Brewer will consult with her legal counsel, issue a veto, and spare Arizona the expense of defending an unconstitutional, unwise, and odious bill in federal courts."

Brewer, a Republican, is not likely to do that.

Soler Meetze said it is "quite likely" that the bill will be challenged if passed since "it is a direct attempt to regulate immigration law."

The bill directs that any "noncitizens" arrested be transferred to federal custody after discharged from prison or fined for failing to carry identification.

The state Senate approved a different version of the bill in February. If signed into law by Gov. Brewer, it will not go into effect until August at the earliest.

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