The Supreme Court threw out most of Arizona's immigration law. The court said no state may usurp the federal government's authority in areas like immigration. However, it left intact a provision of the law which allows police in Arizona, and any other state, to require anyone they stop, who they think might be in this country illegally, to show proof they are here legally. The police can hold or detain anyone lacking proper identification.
There are three parts to this provision. First, police must have a legitimate reason to pull someone over or stop them on the street (probable cause). Second, they must suspect the person is here illegally and, finally, they can demand proof they are legally in this country. Sounds pretty straightforward. There is no recipe here for mischief or civil liberties violations, is there?
The police can pull you over or stop you on the street with impunity. They can claim you made an illegal turn; rolled through a stop sign; have an extinguished tail light or numerous other excuses true or false. On the street, the ever popular, "...he was acting suspicious", is usually enough to allow police to stop anyone they wish. We know in Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been using these tactics for years to harass and arrest anyone he suspects is illegally in this country. Probable cause will not offer you much safety from him or other law enforcement.
After someone has been pulled over, if police suspect they are here illegally, they can demand proof they are legal. (This, by the way, is guilty until proven innocent, but let's not quibble about small constitutional heresies) What would cause a cop to think someone was an illegal immigrant? Just imagine a stop and the driver is blond, blue-eyed and speaks English well. This Canadian citizen, who has overstayed his visa or snuck into this country, has little if anything to fear from local police. Ironically, for once, African Americans also have little to fear from the police on this issue. What if the cop pulls over a pick-up truck with four males inside? The back is filled with gardening tools. The driver and passengers are dressed in tank tops and dirty jeans and the driver speaks with a Spanish accent. What do you think are the chances the officer will decide to ask for proof of residency? You know I'm right. Just imagine what instructions the cops would be given...anyone they suspect of being here illegally...imagine what the demographic breakdown of these stops would be? (In New York, over 80% of the stop and frisks are minorities.) Here, however, is when this gets into the land of Franz Kafka.
The police officer asks for proof of legal residence or he will arrest you and take you to the station and put you in a cell. You try your driver's license, but that doesn't prove a thing. You could have gotten that anywhere. Now, you are taken "downtown". Once at the station, you could have family come and vouch for you, but they might be lying. Your employer could stand up for you, but how would he or she know if you are legal? Someone could bring a birth certificate, but how would the police know it’s real or is really you? There is no national database of live births in this country, so a birth certificate offers little protection. Maybe you have a passport. Surely an American passport would be enough proof. However, the U.S. State Department is not going to let every police department in the country, or even in Arizona, have access to its passport data base, so there is no way to check on its validity. Meanwhile, you have now spent hours in a drunk tank trying to prove you are legal to no avail.
Wait, wait, it gets even better. Suppose the cops are right and you are here illegally. What then? Right now, if you are under 30 with no criminal record and you were brought here illegally before you were 16, the U.S. government has no interest in holding you or deporting you. In other words, even if they catch an illegal immigrant, there is a strong probability the federal government won't want to do anything about it and the Supreme Court has ruled there is nothing Arizona, or any state, can do about it either.
This Rube Goldberg situation I have just described has the potential to shred the constitution. American's freedom will be taken away with little to show for it. Hispanics will be the natural target for most stops because they fit the profile. Documents to prove legitimacy are all suspect or the police will not have access to databases to confirm or reject someone's claim. Right now the Justice Department is suing Arpaio for civil rights violations he committed when he targeted Hispanics exactly the way this law envisions.
What strikes me as odd about this whole process is the justices upheld it but said they would watch to see if it is abused. Huh? What kind of ruling is that? Furthermore, regressives who usually champion smaller, less intrusive government, should be outraged at this license to go fish given to police departments across this country. They are quiet, of course, because they do not believe the law will ever be applied to them, so they have nothing to worry about. You think they would have learned by now.
"Show us your papers laws", are unconstitutional violations of the 4th amendment and they play into the nativist and racist stereotypes which most cops believe. They violate the spirit of a free country and they will result in people getting caught up in them who never thought it could happen to them. Just ask that Volkswagen executive in Alabama.