What does Arizona’s new immigration law mean to travelers in Arizona?

US Passport Card

Citing border violence and crime due to illegal immigration, Arizona has enacted a new immigration law, widely considered to be the toughest immigration legislation in the nation. As amended, it requires police officers, if they have a “reasonable suspicion” a person is an illegal alien, following a lawful stop, detention or arrest of the person, to determine whether the person is in the U.S. legally, and arrest them if they are not.

My question is, “Does the new Arizona law affect travelers, including US citizens and legal residents, traveling to, or through Arizona, and if yes, how?”

Many people expressed strong objections to the law, and as a result Arizona quickly amended it, but the amendments haven’t mitigated the objections of the majority of the law’s opponents.

This law has raised many questions. Is the law constitutional? Does the law make sense? Will the law cause the police to use racial profiling? Does the law target the Hispanic community?

While a discussion of these questions could prove interesting, they are not the subject of this column. That being said, it is necessary to examine the new law and consider statements of both proponents and opponents of it to determine the possible effect of the law’s enforcement on travelers in Arizona.

The bill, signed into the new immigration law, was Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Since being enacted, it’s been amended with a few key provisions, which more clearly define the law’s requirements.

The law states that if you’re in Arizona, having entered the U.S. illegally, you are guilty of criminal trespass, which allows police officers throughout Arizona to arrest you, and, if you’re found guilty of that and/or other offenses, turn you over to federal immigration authorities once your Arizona sentence is completed.

Critics of the new amended immigration law state that Arizona police officers, under strong public pressure to find and arrest illegal aliens, could identify people by race, then look for some minor infraction, such as loitering, as an excuse to investigate their immigration/citizenship status.

Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, the law’s primary sponsor, says, “Illegal is illegal. Illegal’s not a race, it’s a crime. … And in Arizona, we’re going to enforce the law.”

It would appear that the pressure from Arizona citizens to take action against illegal aliens in the state is enormous, and this new law contains a powerful weapon aimed at police departments who don’t vigorously pursue the requirements of this law. Article 8, Part G of the law, empowers Arizona citizens to sue any police department across the state who they feel “adopts or implements a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement” of immigration laws.

Critics of the law explain, it takes only one person, or one outspoken anti-illegal immigrant group to sue police. They conclude therefore, the law may induce police misconduct to avoid citizen law suits, which could cost as much as $5K per day, especially in these difficult times for local government budgets.

Tucson, Arizona, police officer Martin H. Escobar is suing Arizona in federal court, asking that local law enforcement be exempt from enforcing the state’s new immigration law. Officer Escobar stated there are no “race neutral criteria or basis to suspect or identify who is lawfully in the United States,” including a person’s English skills, skin color, clothing, or the type of vehicle driven.

On the other hand, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said, “These new amendments make it crystal clear and undeniable that racial profiling is illegal and will not be tolerated in Arizona.”

Referring to the change in the immigration law where police can stop suspected illegal aliens only while enforcing some other law or ordinance, Clarissa Martinez De Castro speaking for the National Council of La Raza, said, “The [current] practice doesn’t reflect what the law is. And if the governor is saying that racial profiling is not going to be tolerated, why has it been tolerated so far?”

So what does all of this mean for a traveler in Arizona?

Anyone, or any traveler stopped by the police for any reason, in Arizona, can lead to questioning about their citizenship, and/or immigration status. Travelers to Arizona can be required to prove their status, even if they are U.S. citizens.

Travelers from outside the U.S., generally have passports with a U.S. entry stamp proving they’re in the U.S. legally. Travelers from Mexico, will also typically have a passport with an entry stamp, or they may have a B1/B2 visa/Border Crossing Card, also known as a “laser visa.” Generally, international travelers in Arizona carry documentation to prove their immigration status.

U.S. legal resident aliens, and especially U.S. citizens, normally don’t carry proof of their immigration status or citizenship, when traveling domestically. In fact, most U.S. citizens don’t even have proof of citizenship. Fewer than 22% of Americans have passports, and probably fewer than 30% have “certified” birth certificates. Most Americans only have “hospital” birth certificates. U.S. Citizens could carry their passport, passport card, certified birth certificate if born in the U.S., or naturalization papers to prove citizenship, but that would be a first for U.S. citizens, traveling in their own country, to have to prove citizenship.

After reviewing the new law, and carefully considering the statements of the law’s supporters and critics, especially if you’re a swarthy skinned traveler in Arizona, I’d recommend you carry proof of U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status to avoid possible detention, if this law goes into effect.

Travel agents with whom I’ve spoken are unanimous, that if the law goes into effect, they will add a strongly worded advisory, to all client invoices and itineraries for travel to or through Arizona, to carry proof of citizenship or legal immigration status.

I intend to follow that advice myself.