A Deep Breath

Sometimes we Progressives need to stop beating the right wing with whatever club comes to hand. We’re starting to behave like them. Here, for instance, we see the avuncular phiz of Raul Grijalva, a congressman from Arizona and the poster boy for resistance to the new law in that state which allows any deputy sheriff to approach law-abiding, innocent Hispanic-looking Americans and demand to see their citizenship papers.

Except it isn’t true. The part of the law that came closest to that–allowing  any law officer to decide whether there was probable cause to believe a person was illegal–was amended a week later to make it clear that only people already being busted for some other violation could be asked to prove their status.

The news media, including bloggers, tweeters, and honkers, preferred the simple version of the story, the one in which the fascists are loose in Arizona. Not that there aren’t plenty of them around.

Rep. Grijalva is generally OK by me. He works consistently for the things I would work for if I had his job. But the guy is crying wolf on this law, which is in line with federal immigration law as well as the California immigration statutes. Admittedly, the law is draconian–and a little loony, with its emphasis on people being able to sue if the law is NOT enforced–but it’s not unconstitutional, or at least so far it’s not. It has been challenged.

And illegal immigration might be inevitable, what with government and industry competing to see who can look the other way the hardest, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. There are plenty of problems caused by our many thousands of illegal immigrants, not the least of which is that our economy is not quite real. And I can’t really blame people for being annoyed about it.

I think it’s important for progressives to be honest about things–heaven knows there are enough real things to be against–so let’s take a look at this law. It’s just a few pages.


I’m not a lawyer, much to my mother’s dismay, but what we have here, if you read carefully, is a law that says officers of state and local governments in Arizona are required to follow federal guidelines for the treatment of arrested suspects who cannot produce legitimate ID and give the officers reason to believe they’re illegal. Essentially, the law says, “If you think they’re illegal, you have to turn them over to the feds.”

The people who framed this charming bit of legislation are trying to make sure that officers aren’t allowed to cut slack for anybody who hasn’t jumped through all the hoops. You might agree, or you might not, but it’s not the same thing as the SS asking to see your papers.

And here’s something else: The Arizona law isn’t really that different from California law. It’s true that in California we emphasize that the arrested person has the right to contact their consulate, or whatever,–and in Arizona, it’s “oh, yeah, if you have a minute, give the Mexicans a call”–but it’s not that different.

Here’s the California version:

834b.  (a) Every law enforcement agency in California shall fully cooperate with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding any person who is arrested if he or she is suspected of being present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.

(b) With respect to any such person who is arrested, and suspected of being present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws, every law enforcement agency shall do the following:

(1) Attempt to verify the legal status of such person as a citizen of the United States, an alien lawfully admitted as a permanent resident, an alien lawfully admitted for a temporary period of time or as an alien who is present in the United States in violation of immigration laws. The verification process may include, but shall not be limited to, questioning the person regarding his or her date and place of birth, and entry into the United States, and demanding documentation to indicate his or her legal status.

(2) Notify the person of his or her apparent status as an alien who is present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws and inform him or her that, apart from any criminal justice proceedings, he or she must either obtain legal status or leave the United States.

(3) Notify the Attorney General of California and the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service of the apparent illegal status and provide any additional information that may be requested by any other public entity.

(c) Any legislative, administrative, or other action by a city, county, or other legally authorized local governmental entity with jurisdictional boundaries, or by a law enforcement agency, to prevent or limit the cooperation required by subdivision (a) is expressly prohibited.

834c.  (a) (1) In accordance with federal law and the provisions of this section, every peace officer, upon arrest and booking or detention for more than two hours of a known or suspected foreign national, shall advise the foreign national that he or she has a right to communicate with an official from the consulate of his or her country, except as provided in subdivision (d). If the foreign national chooses to exercise that right, the peace officer shall notify the pertinent official in his or her agency or department of the arrest or detention and that the foreign national wants his or her consulate notified.

(2) The law enforcement official who receives the notification request pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be guided by his or her agency’s procedures in conjunction with the Department of State Guidelines Regarding Foreign Nationals Arrested or Detained in the United States, and make the appropriate notifications to the consular officers at the consulate of the arrestee.

(3) The law enforcement official in charge of the custodial facility where an arrestee subject to this subdivision is located shall ensure that the arrestee is allowed to communicate with, correspond with, and be visited by, a consular officer of his or her country.

(b) The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations Treaty was signed by 140 nations, including the United States, which ratified the agreement in 1969. This treaty guarantees that individuals arrested or detained in a foreign country must be told by police “without delay” that they have a right to speak to an official from their country’s consulate and if an individual chooses to exercise that right a law enforcement official is required to notify the consulate.

(c) California law enforcement agencies shall ensure that policy or procedure and training manuals incorporate language based upon provisions of the treaty that set forth requirements for handling the arrest and booking or detention for more than two hours of a foreign national pursuant to this section prior to December 31, 2000.

(d) Countries requiring mandatory notification under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention shall be notified as set forth in this section without regard to an arrested or detained foreign national’s request to the contrary. Those countries, as identified by the United States Department of State on July 1, 1999, are as follows:

(1) Antigua and Barbuda.

And etc.