Crisis Averted? Arizona Legislature Changes Immigration Bill Language

The Washington Examiner reported this morning that some of the language has been changed in the new AZ immigration bill, defining the context in which law enforcement can ask for documentation and limiting the possibility of racial profiling.

Now, Arizona lawmakers have made some changes intended to clarify their intent and, perhaps, silence some of the critics.  The changes were first reported by Phoenix television station KNXV, better known as ABC15.

The first concerns the phrase “lawful contact,” which is contained in this controversial portion of the bill: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…”

So now, in response to those critics, lawmakers have removed “lawful contact” from the bill and replaced it with “lawful stop, detention or arrest.” In an explanatory note, lawmakers added that the change “stipulates that a lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.”

“It was the intent of the legislature for ‘lawful contact’ to mean arrests and stops, but people on the left mischaracterized it,” says Kris Kobach, the law professor and former Bush Justice Department official who helped draft the law.  “So that term is now defined.”

The second change concerns the word “solely.”  In a safeguard against racial profiling, the law contained the phrase, “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.”  Critics objected to that, too, arguing again that it would not prevent but instead lead to racial profiling.  So lawmakers have taken out the word “solely.”

These changes could make a considerable difference – bringing the law closer to existing procedure, which dictates that law enforcement can only demand legal documents from a person who is already violating an existing law. It remains to be seen how legal challenges will proceed against the new language.

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