While supporters of Arizona’s immigration law have said repeatedly that it will allow police officers to check the immigration status of people during the enforcement of other crimes, the law actually gives police much broader enforcement power, according to legal experts and representatives of the law enforcement community.
S1070, as passed, gave local police the authority to run a federal immigration check after basic public safety contacts in situations where no offense has been committed, according to Lyle Mann, director of the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, the group that’s been tasked to create guidelines for the law’s street-level application.
“Police officers do this every day. It’s called a ‘Terry Stop,’ after the Terry v. Ohio case,” he said. “Let’s say there are some guys playing basketball in a park. The officer walks up and says, ‘Hey guys, how’s it going.’ That’s lawful contact. It’s a voluntary stop.”
But one of several last-minute changes to the law on April 29 may have established an even broader set of circumstances that would be considered a “lawful stop, detainment or arrest.”
The revision to the law was included in a bill, H2162, which was passed by the Legislature on April 29, the final day of this year’s legislative session, and then signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 30.
The bill made a number of revisions to the immigration law. It lowered the fines for violating the law, added a requirement that only officers authorized by the federal government can make the final immigration status determination of people encountered, and eliminated the use of race as a qualifying factor to determine “reasonable suspicion” that a person may be in the country illegally.
But H2162 also changed the language of the new immigration law so that police officers will be authorized to use local ordinances, such as property or rental code violations, to initiate immigration checks.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Phoenix, said letting police officers knock on a person’s door and run an immigration check because their lawn is overgrown or they have a car parked on their lawn will increase the likelihood that particular groups of people, such as the poor, are targeted.
“This is so overreaching,” Sinema said. “Now, someone can just call the police on their neighbor for a barking dog, or an overgrown lawn, and the police can show up and check their immigration status.”
Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican from Mesa, and the main sponsor of S1070, the original immigration bill, said the changes to the law only clarify the powers police would already have had with the new law.
Republican lawmakers such as Pearce, Sen. Frank Antenori and Sen. Ron Gould have told the national media that the immigration law will be enforced by local police only during the course of investigating other crimes and such things as traffic stops.
But an e-mail that Pearce accidentally sent to a Tucson resident, and which was then passed to lawmakers and media, indicates that the slight change was intended to clarify that police would be able to use violations of property codes, such as cars on blocks in the yard, or rental codes, such as too many occupants of a rental unit, to initiate contact.
The e-mail appears to have been sent from Kris Kobach, a former aide to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in the Department of Justice, and who is running as a Republican for secretary of state in Kansas.
Both Pearce and Kobach said they would not comment on the validity of the e-mail, but neither denied its legitimacy.
The changes that were outlined in the e-mail were adopted as an amendment to H2162 minutes before the legislative conference committee agreed to its final version. The bill received a final vote hours later, and was signed by the governor on April 30.