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Why Arizona's "Show Me Your Papers" Law Must Be Stopped

Alessandra Soler,
ACLU of Arizona
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July 22, 2010

(Originally posted on the Huffington Post.)

Today, the ACLU will be appearing in federal court in its in legal challenge to the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement to demand “papers” from anyone they stop who they suspect isn’t authorized to be in the country. The main issue for the court on Thursday will be whether or not to issue a preliminary injunction, stopping the law from going into effect on July 29. For the sake of all Americans who value fairness and equality, let’s hope the judge does the right thing and grants the injunction. Arizona should not become a police state where people are subject to racial profiling and live under constant threat of police harassment.

Shortly after the law was passed in May, the ACLU brought a legal challenge to it with several other civil rights organizations. One of the plaintiffs in our challenge is Jim Shee, a U.S.-born 70-year-old American citizen of Spanish and Chinese descent who has already been stopped twice by local law enforcement officers in Arizona and asked to produce his “papers.” If the Arizona police are already exhibiting this behavior, it’s pretty easy to see that this extreme law, which practically begs police to engage in racial profiling, will lead to unnecessary police harassment of citizens based solely on the fact that they may look or sound like they are foreign. How else would police form a suspicion that someone was not in the U.S. legally?

The law has been condemned by high ranking law enforcement officials, including the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, who know first hand that the law will destroy the public trust necessary for police to do their jobs. People who are afraid that they will be questioned and forced to show papers because of the way they look will be much less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses. Similarly, already stretched police officers will have to spend their time investigating whether someone is here legally rather than solving violent and other very serious crimes.

The ACLU’s challenge got a welcome boost of support when the Department of Justice filed its own challenge to the law on July 6. Like the ACLU lawsuit, the Obama administration’s challenge charges that Arizona is preempted from enacting such a sweeping law because it interferes with the federal government’s obligations to establish immigration policy. By filing its own challenge, the administration has taken its strongest stand yet against states acting on their own to create new crimes and to pass divisive and discriminatory laws that will be result in harassment of innocent people. The challenges brought by the ACLU and the Department of Justice are based on strong legal principal. Anti-immigrant housing ordinances in communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Missouri and Texas have all been struck down under similar claims.

Hopefully, the court will issue the preliminary injunction in our and the DoJ’s cases, so that the people of Arizona – especially the 30 percent who are Latino — never have to face the harassment and misconduct that this law so clearly invites.

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