But before I run off to my next cocktail party spouting profound and provocative phrases like "Arizonans are racist, fascist pigs," I thought it might be prudent to actually read this new law. Call me crazy.
Still, my self-imposed research foray into Arizona's new immigration law seemed like overkill. After all, the media has been reporting for days on end that the law allows police to stop anyone they want to, at any time, to "check their papers." And if we can't believe the media, who can we believe?
On Tuesday, former Con-law professor President Obama decried Arizona's new law.
"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 -- that's something that could potentially happen ... That's not the right way to go."Baskin-Robbins raids? Shiver me timbers.
The mayor of Phoenix had a stronger reaction; he called for a lawsuit (although he later withdrew the request). Irate vandals smeared refried beans in the shape of swastikas on the windows of Arizona's capitol building. The usually well-informed Joe Scarborough was apoplectic.
So when I took the time to read Arizona's law, I was . . . well, to say I was surprised doesn't capture it. Obama's and the media's spin on this law versus a plain reading of the statute is as different as night and day.
Albeit, there has been mass confusion about what law was actually passed. There were two versions bouncing around the internet last week, and the earlier draft was fairly draconian. A significantly less onerous version, however, was the one signed into law.
But gee whiz. If I can get my hands on the law that was enacted -- before I start spilling bile all over it and calling an entire state racist -- surely everyone else, and especially Obama, can, too.
Same goes for the New York Times. Are they so broke they can't keep a fact-checker on staff? I mean, really.
Yesterday that paper reported that Arizona's law gives police, "broad power to stop people on suspicion of being here illegally." Umm, no, it does not. That assertion is patently false.
Here are a few of the -- Mr. Prez, can I borrow your word "misguided"? -- press reports:
* Arizona's law allows the police to harass people who have no "papers."
* Arizona's law lets the police pull over anyone, at any time, for any reason, just to make sure the person is "legal."
* Arizona's law is Hitleresque, allowing police to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they choose to pick on. If you forgot your "papers" you'll get carted off to jail.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Consider these facts (and please, read the law for yourself; you don't need a J.D.); I'll start with a bombshell:
* The federal government already requires aliens to register and carry their "papers" on or about their person at all times. 8 USC 1304(e).
* An Arizona police officer cannot stop you -- be you yellow, brown, black, or white -- unless he has reasonable suspicion to believe you've committed an offense; if he does, he can make "legal contact." He cannot stop you simply because you might not be "legal." No, the officer must have independent reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.
* If you are legally contacted (i.e., legally stopped), and only then, can the officer ask about your immigration status and only if he has reasonable suspicion to think you are here illegally.
* If you produce a valid Arizona driver's license or Arizona-issued state identification card, you are presumptively legal and the inquiry as to your immigration status ends there. A valid DL or ID vitiates -- indeed precludes -- any "reasonable suspicion" that you are not legal (unless, of course, your DL or ID appears forged or fake).
* What is a "legal contact"? Some examples: if a police officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you are speeding, say, or ran a red light, or robbed a liquor store, he can stop you. This is well settled criminal law, certainly not shocking.
* What is an Arizona officer now required to do, during a legal contact, that he wasn't required by law to do before? Nothing more than ask for your Arizona DL or ID and inquire further if you have none.
* Officers across the country routinely (and legally) ask to see a person's driver's license during a stop -- so the officer can check to see if someone has a warrant out or just escaped from the pen. This is
* Only someone who, during a legal contact, has no license or I.D. (or produces something suspicious) will be questioned about their immigration status.
Now then. Am I saying I agree with every aspect of the law? Not at all. It is poorly drafted, to begin with. How out-of-state visitors, for instance, will be treated is entirely unclear -- because to be presumptively "legal" in Arizona, your DL or ID must be issued by a state that has already confirmed you are lawfully in the country.
Of more concern, are so-called police/citizen "casual encounters" (an officer can lawfully walk up to you on the sidewalk and start up a conversation -- you can walk away, if you like). Where these encounters fit into the law seems an open question.
Even so, before we all turn into an hysterical mob of furious, we're-never-coming-to-your-state-again protesters, eager to blindly and blithely brand Arizonans as Mexican-hating, harassing racists, let's at least get our facts straight.
Immigration is a hard, already divisive issue that our country desperately needs to address. But we sure won't get very far making misinformed, inflammatory accusations against each other.