Behind the Sound Bites on Arizona’s Immigration Law

Cite as “AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 10051130 (posted May. 11, 2010)”

One of the problems with debates on serious issues being played out in the media is that all sides, by necessity, make their arguments with shorthand and sound bites. The same is true, in spades, of the public discussion on Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law.

Much of the debate centers around the law’s requirement that law enforcement personnel demand immigration documents when they have “reasonable suspicion” that someone they have stopped might be undocumented. Proponents of the law often give the example of an Arizona driver who has been stopped for speeding and is unable to produce a valid driver’s license as an example of reasonable suspicion.

While that example makes for a nice sound bite, the reality is a little more complicated. If Arizona had meant to limit the circumstances to that, they readily could have written a law that said that if a person required to produce an Arizona driver’s license cannot do so, check for his proof of legal status. That would have been ethnically neutral, and would have avoided getting into the vague territory of “reasonable suspicion.” But they didn’t do that. Instead, they went much further.

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