When Arizona's new law was signed on Friday, Hispanics demonstrated outside the state capitol in Phoenix, fearful of what it would mean for them. "If a cop sees them and they look Mexican, he's going to stop me," a 18-year-old Hispanic told the Associated Press. "What if people are U.S. citizens? They're going to be asking them if they have papers because of the color of their skin." The young man claimed that he was that even though he was a U.S. citizen he risked being arrested and put in jail.
Other news stories discuss Hispanics believing that they will have to have to carry multiple IDs to avoid prison. "Even if you're legal, you're in fear that maybe your driver's license isn't going to be enough or if you're walking down the street and the police stop you," a 21-year-old University of Arizona college student told CNN. "It's a constant fear we're living in and even legal citizens are afraid to go out."
But it is a dangerous game stirring up fears of people being hunted down and put in jail because of their race or nationality. The law specifically bans picking up someone just because they are Hispanic or even because the person was originally from Mexico or any other country you can read a copy of the law right here. Anyone arrested for a crime must have their immigration status determined before they are released. Thus, it is not just Hispanics who will be required to provide evidence of citizenship, but so will all whites, blacks and Asians. If the eligibility for public services depends on citizenship, again, everyone who applies, regardless of race, will have to provide an ID. In other circumstances, law enforcement officials must have reasonable suspicion, not based simply on the person's race or origin, that the individual is an illegal alien before they can ask to check someone's ID.
Police today already have to deal with the "reasonable suspicion" standard all the time in other areas of law enforcement, and most understand very well how this standard limits what they can do. Police know that they can't pull over drivers for fear that they are smuggling drugs just because they are black. "Reasonable suspicion" requires that the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to convince a person of "reasonable prudence" that a crime has been committed. Obviously in a state such as Arizona, with an estimated half a million illegal immigrants, the vast majority OF illegal aliens are going to be Hispanic. But the reasonableness standard used by Arizona specifically requires something other than just race or national origin.
The ID requested is hardly draconian: a driver's license, a non-operating identification license, valid tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification, or "any valid United States federal, state, or local government issued identification." Rather than requiring multiple IDs as some fear, the law clearly says that "any" of the IDs is sufficient. And the notion of having to carry IDs is not something unique to Arizona. President Obama and many Democrats, such as Senator Charles Schumer, support a national ID card, so it hard to argue that Arizona's requirement will impose an undue burden.
Even if a person does not present the required ID, that doesn't necessarily mean the person faces problems. The new Arizona law requires that "a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person." Today, this is not hard to accomplish quickly as computer records have photographs and other identifying details for people who have state-issued IDs. The only exception to making "a reasonable attempt" is if making that investigation would "hinder or obstruct" a criminal investigation. That isn't going to effect many cases.
Obama has now instructed the Justice Department to find some way to challenge the new law. It seems very unlikely that they will succeed in stopping the law's primary requirements. Sadly, the president and others are unjustifiably stirring up extreme fears. This might be good short-run politics, but those stoking these fears must realize that their credibility is on the line. Unless some federal law will quickly be rammed through Congress, it will soon become evident that U.S. citizens and legal residents have absolutely nothing to fear.
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John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns. He is the author of several books, including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.