Tales from the Trail

Arizona immigration law prompts ACLU travel alert

July 1, 2010

aliensAs Arizona prepares to implement a controversial law cracking down on illegal immigrants, the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a travel alert advising visitors to the desert state of their civil rights if stopped by police.

The law requires state and local police to investigate the immigration status of anyone that they reasonably suspect is in the country illegally, during the course of lawful contact such as a traffic stop.

Backers of the measure, which takes effect on July 29 barring a successful legal challenge, say it is needed to curb illegal immigration and border-related crime in the state, which is a major corridor for drug and human smuggling from Mexico. Opponents, among them the ACLU, say it is a recipe for racial profiling.

“Under Arizona’s racial profiling law, people who look ‘foreign’ are more likely to be stopped for minor infractions and then asked for their ‘papers’ if police believe, based on their appearance or accent, that they could be in the country unlawfully,” Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director said in a statement.

“We hope the alerts provide people with some measure of protection from illegal harassment from law enforcement and inform them of their rights should they encounter it,” he added.

The ACLU is among plaintiffs in five separate lawsuits lodged in federal court in Phoenix that seek to derail the law. President Barack Obama’s administration is also expected to file a suit challenging the law.

In addition to the travel alerts, the ACLU has made available a guide in English and Spanish  setting out individuals’ rights if stopped by law police in Arizona or elsewhere.

The materials include a downloadable card with instructions – which are applicable in any state – on how to handle vehicle stops and questioning by police, federal immigration police or the FBI. It also addresses frequently asked questions about the immigration law.

The ACLU initiative is not the only drive underway in Arizona to highlight civil rights ahead of the law’s implementation next month.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix says it will hold a series of civil rights workshops to inform residents on how to report allegations of police misconduct, and what do if they believe they are victims of a hate crime. The office did not mention Arizona’s immigration law specifically.

The law has jump-started a dormant debate on illegal immigration in the United States, where 10.8 million unauthorized migrants live and work in the shadows.

Days after it was passed in late April, Senate Democrats set out a framework to overhaul of the country’s broken immigration laws, although prospects for any bill passing before the November midterm elections are slim.

Obama is scheduled to speak on the need for comprehensive immigration reform on Thursday. He promised to make overhauling immigration laws a priority during his first year in office.

He backs a system that would allow unauthorized migrants in good standing to pay a fine, learn English and become citizens. He also supports tightening border security and clamping down on employers that hire undocumented workers.

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PHOTO CREDIT:Joshua Lott (Demonstrators protest against Arizona’s immigration law  in Phoenix May 29, 2010.)

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