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Ariz. SB 1070: The true cost of political backlash

Much of the media, part of the nation, and officials within the Federal Government recently made a common error that is often made in problem solving. They identified — and continue to identify — the Arizona immigration law as the problem.  In fact, it is only a symptom of the problem.

The Problem
The problem is that the border between Mexico and the United States is a poorly protected portion of our nation’s perimeter and has become a portal into the nation’s Southwest. There is very little evidence to suggest the Federal Government possesses the will to take steps to close it. Senator John McCain of Arizona reported recently that 241,000 unlawful immigrants entered the country last year in the Tucson sector alone. He also pointed out that 1.3 million pounds of marijuana has been confiscated at the border in that sector last year.

In addition to that, there is a horrific war being fought in Mexico between the Mexican Government and Drug Cartels. In this war, the Mexican Drug Cartels are engaged in cop killing, torture, kidnapping, murder, and the terror tactic of beheading. This war has claimed American citizens’ lives and has spilled across the border into Arizona.

On May 3, 2010 Justin Farmer of Channel 2 in Atlanta reported that the files from the detention center near Phoenix shows that the influx of unlawful immigrants not only includes people looking for employment, criminals, drug dealers, and the spill-over of Mexico’s battle with the Cartel, but it also unlawful entries from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen. Farmer says that a Congressional Report states that Hezbollah is using this unprotected corridor as an access point.

Arizona’s public officials, law enforcement, and private citizens had been pleading for the Federal Government to take action, but the problem has become too big for the number Border Patrol agents assigned to the vast open area it patrols.

The southern border is understaffed by border patrol and thus nearly wide open. Millions of unlawful immigrants have entered the country and continue to pour in every day. They are creating an unbearable burden on state and local economies. Some are criminals that are endangering communities, cops and overwhelming the criminal justice system.

The last straw for Arizonans was the murder of Robert Krentz, whose property stood in the path of drug smugglers and illegal immigrants. Krentz was found gunned down on his ranch that had been in the family for 100 years. That murder remains unsolved.

Arizona dialed 9-1-1 and no one answered, so they decided to give their own law enforcement officers as well as state and county attorney’s a tool to assist them in dealing with the problem. To the people of Arizona it appears the Federal Government is unwilling or unable to answer their call for assistance.

Government Officials Respond
Attorney General of the United States responded to the Arizona Law by stating, “You’ll end up in a situation where people are racially profiled…” This statement was made without Mr. Holder even having read the law. Political Cartoonist Michael Ramirez penned a cartoon titled “Ignorance of the Lawyer is no Defense.” On it, the United States Attorney General Eric Holder is proclaiming, “The Arizona Immigration Law is unconstitutional and the worst law I never read.”

President Obama described a theoretical law enforcement contact made under the auspices of the Arizona Law by claiming, “Now suddenly if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to get harassed.”

Later, in the presence of the Mexican President, he reinforced his opinion by stating, “I think a fair reading of the language of the statute indicates that it gives the possibility of individuals who are deemed to be suspicious of being illegal immigrants from being harassed or arrested.”

An Officer Safety Issue
The national deluge of statements suggesting officers will racially profile and harass individuals at random will doubtlessly create a nationwide officer safety issue. These statements paint an ugly picture of law enforcement officers as offenders rather than defenders by suggesting they would base a stop on race alone and would stop people for no other reason but to “harass.” The term “papers,” injected into the discussion conjures up comparisons to the Gestapo in Nazi Germany asking, “Show me your papers.”

The statements being reported daily about racial profiling and harassment effectively serve to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect not only in Arizona, but all over the nation. The President’s repetitive suggestion that police stops made on grounds of reasonable suspicion equal harassment suggests a personal opinion rather than a legal opinion.

When a President and an Attorney General make such statements, it sounds like they are acknowledging a fact rather than expressing an opinion. It plants a seed in the mind of many who will be legitimately stopped by police in the immediate future, making those legitimate stops even more dangerous and potentially volatile for professional police officers doing their sworn duty.

The President and the Attorney General are not the only ones who suggested the racist tendency of law enforcement. The diatribe came from members of Congress and the media. It has not just been directed at law enforcement — it has maligned the entire State of Arizona. One has to wonder if they have actually given the law a “fair reading.”

No Stops Based on Race Alone
The law states the law enforcement contact must be “lawful” and then the questioning about being lawfully present in the country must be based upon “reasonable suspicion.” This has been the Constitutional standard police have been operating under since Terry v Ohio. Basing the stop on race alone would make the stop an unlawful stop. Basing the follow-up questioning on race alone would not constitute reasonable suspicion.

The law speaks comprehensively about employers that knowingly recruit and hire unlawful immigrants. The law allows for the state and county attorney’s to investigate these complaints, but clearly articulates:

“The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are solely based on race.”

The ultimately the constitutionality of the law will not be determined by the Attorney General, the President, or media experts. It will be decided by the United States Supreme Court. Hopefully, those whose duty it is to secure the nation’s border will do so long before that decision is made.

First, Do No Harm
Law enforcement is occupied by honorable men, and women, who are represent all races, creeds and colors. They are given difficult problems and often have to make difficult decisions, while performing a difficult job. They do not write laws they only enforce laws. They often perform this job courageously, sometimes right up to the moment of their own death.

Instead of choosing to address the problem of illegal immigration, or going through the available legal steps to determine the law’s legality, high ranking public officials shot from the hip and continue to argue their point of view in the media instead of in the courts. In the process they have insulted American Law Enforcement and quite possibly undermined 20 years of community policing efforts. It is arguable that they made the job of law enforcement even more dangerous and difficult than it already is.

Political leaders today need the equivalent of Hippocrates. There should be a revered politician from Ancient Greece, who cautioned political leaders 3000 years ago by saying, “Before you decide to speak, remember, first do no harm.”

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