Arizona Immigration Law Has Not Lived Up to Reputation

Alia Beard Rau, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), October 29, 2010

The nation’s toughest immigration law has been in effect for three months. But after the federal courts prevented key portions from going into effect, it has failed to live up to both opponents’ worst fears and supporters’ greatest hopes.

Immigrant-rights groups and major Arizona law-enforcement agencies say they’ve heard of no arrests made or citations issued using the statutes created under Senate Bill 1070, and no Arizona resident has taken advantage of the portion of the law that allows them to sue an official or agency that is not enforcing federal immigration law to the fullest extent.

The law that went into effect on July 29 is a shadow of its original self. The day before, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton halted four key provisions from going into effect, including the portion of the law that requires a police officer to verify a person’s status when there is reasonable suspicion that the subject is an undocumented immigrant.

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New statutes

The statutes allowed to go into effect do several things:

* Require government officials and agencies to enforce federal immigration laws to the fullest extent permitted by federal law and allow Arizona residents to sue if the official or agency adopts a policy that violates this requirement.

* Allow law enforcement to pull anybody over for any traffic violation if the driver is suspected of engaging in the “smuggling” of human beings for profit or commercial purposes. This could include stopping a driver for a secondary offense such as not wearing a seat belt, which in every other circumstance can be cited only if the driver is stopped for a separate primary violation such as speeding.

* Make it a crime to pick up or be picked up as a day laborer if the vehicle is stopped on a road and impeding traffic.

* Make it a crime to encourage an illegal immigrant to come to Arizona or transport, conceal, harbor or shield an immigrant if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact the immigrant is in the country illegally. This offense has to be during the commission of another criminal offense.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant-advocacy groups had said they were concerned overzealous law enforcement would misapply these remaining portions of the law, particularly the harboring and day-labor provisions.

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On Thursday, he [Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa] said that despite there having been no arrests under the law, it has succeeded at driving illegal immigrants out of Arizona and assisting law enforcement.

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He said it has also succeeded at getting some law-enforcement agencies to change policies that before did not allow officers to question individuals such as witnesses and crime victims about their legal status.

Law enforcement

But even with the “handcuffs” removed, law enforcement agencies in Maricopa County, Cochise County, Tempe, Glendale, Peoria, Gilbert and elsewhere say they have made no arrests under the new statutes. {snip}

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Immigrant-advocacy groups, which have been tracking the issue closely and encouraging individuals to contact them with reports of arrests or racial discrimination, say they have heard of no arrests anywhere in the state.

Mike Tellef, a Peoria Police Department spokesman, said his department has decided to wait on future court rulings before enforcing SB 1070. He said the department has suspended its policy relating to the law.

Glendale Officer Gerald Sydnor said his officers have been told that they can enforce the statutes of SB 1070 not halted by the court. But he said no officers have recommended charges for SB 1070 offenses.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said Bolton’s decision to halt part of the law rendered the entire thing “moot.”

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Policy changes

Pearce has said the most important portion of the law allowed to go into effect is the provision that requires local agencies to enforce federal immigration law. He said that will end the trend of “sanctuary cities” because it means cities cannot have policies that, for example, forbid an officer from questioning a witness or crime victim about his or her legal status.

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In September, Mesa changed its policy to no longer forbid officers from questioning the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, domestic-violence victims, individuals seeking medical assistance, and some juveniles.

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