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April 28, 2010

(Originally posted on the New York Times’ s Room for Debate blog.)

Arizona’s new law is a watershed moment for its blatant disregard of America’s most fundamental values of fairness and equality. While there’s been no shortage of discriminatory anti-immigrant laws across the country in recent years, this one is in a league of its own.

SB 1070 does nothing short of making all of Arizona’s Latino residents, and other presumed immigrants, potential criminal suspects in the eyes of the law. It authorizes police officers to stop and ask people for their immigration papers based only on some undefined “‘reasonable suspicion”‘ that they are in the country illegally. Given that Latinos comprise an estimated 30 percent of Arizona’s population, the law presents a pretty big target.

How do you know people are unauthorized to be in the United States just by looking at them?

We already know how government officials in Arizona have responded to the mounting pressure to enforce federal immigration laws at the state and local levels, even before this law was passed. Take the case of Julio and Julian Mora — a lawful permanent resident and his U.S. citizen son — who were stopped by the Maricopa County sheriff’s office as they drove on a public street, arrested and forcibly transported to the site of an immigration raid.

This case and a separate class action challenge on behalf of Latino motorists in Maricopa County are among four of the ACLU’s pending lawsuits against government officials in Arizona on behalf of a besieged immigrant community. Unfortunately, we can only expect these shameful incidents to climb in number if the new law takes effect.

Arizona’s passage of SB 1070 represents the most serious incursion by a state into the federal province of immigration regulation and enforcement since California’s Proposition 187 in the 1990s. A federal court threw out much of that law because the state had overstepped its authority to engage in immigration matters. The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution similarly prevents Arizona from taking federal immigration enforcement into its own hands. Is this the type of country we want to become? Do we want to give our police officers the authority to stop and demand that people on the street present their papers simply because of the way they look? (Empty language inserted into the Arizona bill ostensibly to prevent profiling does not actually prohibit law enforcement officials from relying on race and ethnicity to form their suspicion.)

Arizona’s transformation into a potential police state has already spawned similar efforts elsewhere. We cannot let politicians rob us of what makes us Americans in the true sense of the word.