Immigration Law's Sponsor Expected Some Uproar

Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh sponsored the anti-illegal immigration law that's reverberating around the country. Host Liane Hansen talks with Kavanagh about the reaction.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh sponsored the state's anti-illegal immigration law and he joins us on the phone.

Mr. Kavanagh, welcome to the program.

State Representative JOHN KAVANAGH (Republican, Arizona): Well, thank you for having me.

HANSEN: Now, did you expect that the law would lead to the kind of angry reaction: these boycotts, lawsuits and protests?

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Well, I expected everything but the boycotts. I mean, anytime illegal immigration becomes an issue it generates great passions on both sides of the debate. The boycotts, though, especially from some activists in Arizona, was unexpected. You know, it's really biting your nose to spite your face. Especially since, if tourism is affected, Hispanic residents will be disproportionally harmed by a boycott.

HANSEN: Hmm. I understand you're a former police officer and you have a doctorate in criminal justice. Is that right?

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Yes. I retired from the Port Authority police in New York and New Jersey as a detective sergeant. And while there I earned a Ph.D. in criminal justice, taught a little bit at ASU, now I'm the head of the Criminal Justice Department at Scottsdale Community College.

HANSEN: Hmm. So with that kind of perspective, how do you respond to those who are concerned about racial profiling under this new law?

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Well, their concern is unfounded. We specifically wrote into the law that you cannot use race or ethnicity as the basis for reasonable suspicion to question somebody about their immigration status, except to the extent that it's allowed by the U.S. and Arizona constitutions, which is very limited in these circumstances.

HANSEN: What constitutes reasonable suspicion?

State Rep. KAVANAGH: That's really something that is usually developed over the years, as the courts look at what police have done. You know, just having brown skin, having a foreign accent, in no way would justify reasonable suspicion. You can't just stop somebody under this law because you have reasonable suspicion that they could be here illegally.

HANSEN: Someone runs a red light, car gets pulled over, someone is asked for their driver's license, they can't produce it. I mean, already, you know you're on the road at least to a ticket or something more.

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Sure.

HANSEN: But...

State Rep. KAVANAGH: And let me take that scenario down the road 'cause that's a very common occurrence. So if the officer, you know, pulls somebody over for speeding or what have, and says, license and registration. And the person says, oh, I don't have my license. And the officer will say, well, why not? And the person might say, oh, it's suspended. So the officer says, well, we can still check that. What's your name and date of birth?

The motorist gives it to the officer who runs it through the computer. Officer comes back. Hey, we've got a problem. You said your license was suspended. Our check says you never had a license. The person fumbles around and says, oh, well, my license is from Mexico - or any foreign country, for that matter. Now the suspicion is starting concerning immigration status.

HANSEN: Hmm. But you're not going to have a policeman say, seeing a Hispanic man standing on a corner, going up to him and saying, let me see your papers?

State Rep. KAVANAGH: That would be racial profiling. That is specifically prohibited by this law.

HANSEN: There has been some criticism that the new state law actually duplicates federal immigration law, and thus will be draining local enforcement resources. How do you respond to that criticism?

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Well, yeah, it does duplicate immigration law. Remember, the states can't preempt federal law but we can mirror it, and that's what we've done. And we had police chiefs approach us early in this process and they said, hey, you know, we can't have our cops tied up doing this stuff when there's more serious stuff.

We recognized that that was a legitimate issue and we corrected it. So, we do allow for a practical exception.

HANSEN: Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh sponsored the state's anti-illegal immigration law. Thank you very much.

State Rep. KAVANAGH: Thank you for having me.

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