Some last minute changes to Arizona’s new law aimed at illegal immigrants are largely meaningless according to one of the organizations that still plans to sue to have it overturned.
SB 1070, set to take effect July 29, requires police to check someone’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that person is in this country illegally. As originally approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, SB 1070 would have allowed police to consider race, ethnicity or national origin in making that determination, as long as other factors were also considered.
Last week, however, lawmakers approved and Brewer signed changes which preclude those factors from entering into an officer’s decision of whether to inquire. But Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, dismissed that as meaningless.
“The attempts to preclude racial profiling amount to nothing more than a statement that Arizona police officers should comply with the Constitution,” Saenz said. He maintains the change in wording “does nothing to prevent law enforcement reliance on equally illegitimate proxies for race and national origin — such as language, accent, appearance, or surname — or to guide law enforcement in any way as to whether there are any legitimate and observable grounds for suspicion of undocumented status.”
Saenz was equally unimpressed with another wording change designed to better define when officers can question someone.
As originally approved, police could inquire during any lawful contact. That was altered to say that questions could be asked only if there is a lawful stop, detention or arrest.
Brewer, in signing the changes, said they “make it crystal clear and undeniable that racial profiling is illegal, and will not be tolerated in Arizona.”
Saenz, however, called that language “the most cynical and valueless change of the bunch.”
“Anyone who is familiar with patterns of racial profiling in Arizona or anywhere else knows that pretextual stops can be disguised, after the fact, as resting on some minor violation to place a veneer of legitimacy over a detention and arrest,” he said.
Anyway, he said, another section of the new law, which remains intact, makes it a violation of state law for foreigners not to carry proof of their legal status in this country. Those who are here legally but don’t have their cards could be punished; those who are not here legally — and, by definition, don’t have the proper federal documents — can be arrested or deported.
Saenz said that new crime then creates its own justification for police to question someone without first having to stop them for another reason.
Also Tuesday, a new poll said that the older Arizonans are — and the more Republican they are — the more likely they are to support a new state law aimed at illegal immigration.
A statewide survey done last month by Behavior Research Center found that 62 percent of those 55 and older back SB 1070 which requires police to question people about their immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion they are in this country illegally.
That support drops to 53 percent for those in the 35 through 54 age group, and 45 percent for those younger.
Similarly, 76 percent of Republicans like the law, compared with 60 percent of independents and just 30 percent of Democrats.
And, not surprisingly, just 21 percent of Hispanics approve of the law, compared to 65 percent who describe themselves as Caucasian.
But the survey results may be somewhat flawed.
The question asked specifically mentions that police would be able to question people about whether they are legal residents “including anyone who looks or sounds foreign.” That reflect SB 1070 as originally approved and signed by the governor — and before last week’s change that precludes those factors from being considered.
“That could have an impact,” acknowledged Jim Haynes, president of Behavior Research Center which conducted the survey of 660 adult heads of household between April 15 and 25.
Haynes said that, even when just questioning people about the original law, there are signs that the initial enthusiasm may be dampening.
He said the margin of support was higher when his staffers first started making calls before Brewer signed the measure, dropping somewhat in the days following.
One thing affecting that, he said, is the negative reaction from business and economic development officials who fear the backlash, including cancelled conventions and conferences. There also has been intense reaction — mostly from those outside the state — to what some have called “racist” legislation.
The survey has a margin of error of 3.9 percent.