Papers, Please? Not Exactly

I want to tell you about a headline the other day on another news network that caught my eye.

The banner on the bottom of the screen said: "Papers, please: Law makes it crime to be illegal immigrant."

This is how MSNBC summarized the new law in Arizona, designed to do something that our federal government will not: Take illegal immigration seriously. The idiocy of the not-so-subtle Nazi reference is exceeded only by the idea that doing something "illegal" should be anything other than a "crime."

But, common sense didn't stop many from reacting as if Arizona's attempt to ask for identification would turn the southwestern United States into the Fourth Reich. Mexico even issued a warning to anyone daring to travel to Arizona, which would have been more intimidating if it didn't sound so much like loving and sensible motherly advice: "It's important to act carefully and respect the local laws."

Isn't that good advice to anyone traveling anywhere? Mexico's outrage rings particularly hollow considering Article 67 of their Population Law: "Authorities, whether federal, state or municipal ... are required to demand that foreigners prove their legal presence in the country, before attending to any issues."

In addition, Amnesty International called the abuse of migrants in Mexico "a major human rights crisis."

Here, we occasionally ask for identification. In Mexico, an estimated six of 10 migrant women and girls are victims of sexual violence, a crime often participated in by authorities themselves. That's a real human rights crisis.

If the Arizona law is so controversial, the residents of Arizona don't seem to understand why. A Rasmussen poll found that 70 percent supported the basic concept of the law. How did this happen? Was it all those rich people?

No, those earning less than $20,000 per year supported it 60-34 percent.

Was is all those old people? No, those between the ages of 18 and 29 years-old supported it 72-28 percent.

Was it all those Republicans? No, Democrats supported the bill 51-43 percent.

Was it all those conservatives? No, liberals supported the bill 44-39 percent.

Was it all those white people? No, even the "other" race category, which includes mostly Hispanics, supported it 63-36 percent.

So either Arizona is filled with racists or they just know more about the law than those criticizing it.

President Obama said this about the legislation the other day:


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This law in Arizona, which I think is a poorly conceived law —


He believed it was a "poorly conceived law." He would have been right, if anything like the law he described actually existed. This is how he summarized his worry for Hispanic Americans:


OBAMA: Now suddenly, if you don't have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you're going to be harassed —


Well, perhaps — but not legally. The law specifically prohibits such behavior. It applies so many circumstantial limitations that it's hard to imagine how systematic abuse is possible:

Law enforcement will make a "reasonable attempt" to determine the immigration status of a person, "when practicable," if there is a "reasonable suspicion," if it doesn't "hinder or obstruct an investigation" or if they are already "arrested." However, "race, color, or national origin" cannot be the only reason they are asked.

Furthermore, any such interactions must be "permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution," must "be implemented in a manner consistent with federal laws regulating immigration" must protect "the civil rights of all persons" and the questioning must occur during "lawful contact."

What does "lawful contact" mean? According to the University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the law, it means "the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he's violated some other law…. The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop." Arizona is currently in the midst of clarifying this even further, just to be completely clear.

So, unless your mythical trip to the ice cream stand includes reckless driving or armed robbery, you're probably OK enjoying your mint chocolate chip waffle cone in peace.

The larger point, however, is that those who attack this law are making a very specific complaint about a very specific group of people. They claim the bill is ripe for abuse. But, by whom? No critic is claiming that Republican politicians will start making citizens arrests of passing Hispanics. They are saying that police officers will abuse their powers to recklessly harass and detain Hispanic citizens for no reason.

Why can we trust the police to make judgments on the use of lethal force, but not to ask for identification when appropriate?

It's been my experience that police officers, along with members of the military, represent the finest among us; these are people who risk their life every day to protect us. So why are we repaying them with accusations of widespread bigotry?

Do we really believe the everyday cop will be inextricably tempted to unfairly detain Hispanics, even when they will clearly have to break the law to do so?

If you really believe that our men and women in uniform at the local precinct are the equivalent of Nazi Germany asking for "papers," then be honest about it. Make that case to the American people. I dare you.

— Watch "Glenn Beck" weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on Fox News Channel