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SB 1070 strikes at our most fundamental liberties

One reads in the papers that Arizona has just unleashed a harsh ""anti-immigration"" law, meant to curb the flow of illegal persons across the border and solve the problem of border violence. But that is not what the new law does, and it is doubtful whether it was even seriously meant to.


Since SB 1070 is being discussed, by fans and foes alike, in the same terms used to sell it to us — as an ""immigration"" law, nothing more, nothing less — it is startling to examine what the bill actually does. It grants law-enforcement officials powers they were never meant to have, and endangers our most fundamental right — the right to be left alone.

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The bill's author, Russell Pearce of Mesa, crows the new law ""takes the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their job."" What it actually does is make up a job that never existed before. It is now, effectively, a punishable crime to be found in this state without identification papers, since the bill does not specify what either the ""probable cause"" or ""reasonable suspicion"" required to arrest a suspected illegal immigrant actually means.


The Fourth Amendment states that no warrant shall be issued ""but upon probable cause."" SB 1070 dispenses with warrants altogether and simply states, ""A law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States."" Since the simple act of being an illegal immigrant is a ""public offense that makes the person removable from the United States,"" the decree is simply a polite way of stating that an officer may henceforth arrest any ""suspicious"" person, and claim afterward that the person might have been an illegal alien.


Incredibly, the bill goes even further. It turns us all into neighborhood snoops and stool pigeons, and threatens consequences if we fail to live up to our invisible badges. It is now a crime in this state to ""conceal, harbor or shield"" an illegal immigrant, meaning you can be prosecuted for not turning in a family member, a friend or a co-worker if it can be proven you had the slightest awareness of their ""non-legal status.""


This supposedly ""conservative"" bill ruthlessly hacks away at the autonomy of local government. Every last person who works for any level of government in Arizona must now fear the heavy hand of the law, since the bill sanctions lawsuits against ""any official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state"" whom any busybody feels happens to be shirking his or her duty.


SB 1070 has just room enough for one final absurdity. A recession-ridden state that supposedly values ""the right to work"" has just banned the simplest form of finding it. Henceforth, you are forbidden to stand on the side of a road and solicit work, and employers are forbidden to hire you there. To distract us from the startling arbitrariness of this decree, the bill throws in a non-sequitur meant to make it sound reasonable: this is only outlawed ""if the motor vehicle blocks or impedes the normal flow of traffic."" It's still OK to hire people off the street, presumably, as long as you don't actually stop the vehicle.


Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is this law's ignoble authors got away with billing the most extreme assault on our liberties perpetrated in Arizona in living memory as a mere ""anti-immigration"" law. It is nothing of the sort. It implicates us all, and it threatens us all.


It is highly unlikely that this bill will stand up in any higher court – or, for that matter, in practice. Police will likely find themselves baffled about how to carry out SB 1070's insane decrees, for as The Desert Lamp's ever-reliable Connor Mendenhall points out, the bill ""both requires and prohibits police from violating individual civil liberties.""


It is not particularly surprising to find that politicians are entirely willing to cynically exploit anti-immigrant sentiment to score votes. It is more distressing to discover that so many of us evidently fear and detest our Mexican neighbors more than we value our own liberties.



— Justyn Dillingham is a 2009 graduate of the University of Arizona and a former Daily Wildcat staffer. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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