Arizona's Tough New Immigration Bill
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up: Today, we have a number of stories that touch on the ongoing debate over equal opportunity, especially the question of whether students in the U.S. have equal access to a decent education. We'll tell you about why the Justice Department thinks a Mississippi school district is intentionally segregating white students in certain classrooms, and we'll tell you about the fight over teacher pay in Florida. Plus, we'll remember the long-time civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks. He died this morning at the age of 85.
But first, we want to talk about another attempt to crack down on illegal immigration in Arizona. The legislature has passed a billed that would make it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally, and would require police officers to question individuals about their immigration status if they form a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country without authorization. Since the State Senate has already approved a similar bill, the measure now goes to Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican. We wanted to know more about this, so we called on two members of the House who have already cast their votes: John Kavanagh - he's a Republican who voted for the bill, as did all Republican members of the House - and Tom Chabin, a Democrat who voted against the bill.
I welcome you both. I thank you both so much for speaking with us.
State Representative TOM CHABIN (Democrat, Arizona): Thank you very much. Good day.
State Representative JOHN KAVANAGH (Republican, Arizona): Thank you for having us.
MARTIN: Representative Kavanagh, if I could start with you, could I just clarify a key point? Does the bill require local police officers to check immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion, as we said? Or does it allow them to do so?
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Well, yes and no. It requires them - it prohibits any sanctuary city rules from supervisors that would say that they couldn't. It says that they are to do these checks - however, it says when practical. So, you know, if they are doing one of these checks and there's a bank robbery alarm down the street on the radio, they leave. In addition, there's an exception. In situations where it would impede an investigation, they don't have to ask the status, so that if they think that a person's a victim or a witness, they wouldn't have to do that and scare them away.
MARTIN: And so - thank you for that. And so why did you feel this bill was necessary? Why did you want to vote for it?
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Well, the real - the problem is that the federal government has dropped ball - well, the Bush administration dropped the ball. The Obama administration has lost the ball on any sort of border security, and even internal enforcement is falling away. Now, if they push for a virtual fence - which border security people opposed - now they admit it's a failure. They've abandoned it. They're only going to build another mile of fence this year, and they're reducing the number of Border Patrol agents. They're going backwards. Crime is running rampant on the border. It's filtering up into Phoenix, and we have to do something because the federal government just is not doing enough. And getting local police empowered is one way. And there's also other things in this bill. You know, it lets us go after day laborers who obstruct traffic on the street, and the like.
MARTIN: OK. Representative Chabin, you voted against the bill. What's your objection?
State Rep. CHABIN: My objection is - well, first of all, I agree with Representative Kavanagh in the failure of the federal government to pass comprehensive immigration law. That is long overdue. And every, every border community and every border state is suffering from it. The crime, as he described, is true, that the crossing of the border just unregulated is true. And it won't stop until the federal government steps up to its responsibility, one, to secure the border, and two, to pass comprehensive immigration legislation. And that really should be bipartisan. That is something that Senator Kyl and Senator McCain should get to the table and come up with something comprehensive. In fact, Senator McCain, honestly, had some very good and decent ideas about that a few years ago. And he's...
MARTIN: OK, I take your point, but tell me about why you voted against this bill and why you think this isn't good for...
State Rep. CHABIN: This bill is not the answer because it doesn't make us safer. Let me give you a list of organizations that oppose this bill: the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Council, the League of Cities and Towns, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, border cities - the City of Yuma and the City of Sierra Vista - on and on and on and on. They oppose this bill because it distracts local police from the priorities that keep the community safe. It distracts them from going after real criminals - crack houses, drug sales and drug dealers within in the community - and diverting their attention away from the real criminals, and directs their attention to some guy that wants to rake someone's lawn.
MARTIN: OK, but there are those who would argue that often, routine stops -like routine traffic stops are often the way that, quote-unquote, "real criminals" are indentified. I mean, so why is this any different?
State Rep. CHABIN: Well, this bill doesn't make any difference - I mean, passage of this bill, it doesn't alter that at all. I - so, I mean, what - how does this bill make it any different in the context of stopping someone and discovering a criminal?
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about a new legislation that's pending in Arizona that would require local police officers to inquire about the immigration status of individuals based on their reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country without proper authorization. It would also make being in Arizona without proper authorization a crime. Representative Kavanagh, one of the arguments against this bill is that, really, it just opens the door to racial profiling, that it - in addition to being a distraction, opens the door to just an abuse of people's rights based on, basically, their appearance. And so what do you say to that?
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Just a few quick comments on Representative Chapin's points. First, we agree that the federal government has dropped the ball on border security. I do not advocate, quote-unquote, "comprehensive immigration reform," which is usually - but not usually necessarily Representative Chabin's taste - a buzzword for amnesty. Secondly, we have 90 cities and towns in Arizona. Only about a dozen weighed in. Thirdly, the main opposition of cities and towns is not necessarily because they are supportive of illegal immigrants or they think this bill has constitutional problems. Their main objection is that citizens can sue towns if they implement amnesty policies against this particular law. So I just wanted to make those points.
In terms of racial profiling, this law allows police officers to question a person's immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion to believe they're in the country illegally. They can only be taken into custody if, during the questioning, facts arise that raise the level of proof to probable cause, which is the arrest level.
Now, this is based - this reasonable suspicion is based on a 1960 Supreme Court case called Terry vs. Ohio, stop and question. And it has been around for half a century. There are reams of legal decisions and court rulings that clearly have defined what is and what is not reasonable suspicion, and racial profiling is not a basis for reasonable suspicion. And if a cop does that, it's not a problem with the law. It's a problem with the cops.
MARTIN: Well, that - OK. But I take your point. But then, I don't know if you've ever been stopped by the police, but there are those who would argue that the constant involvement with law enforcement engaged in stopping people randomly in a matter that they don't consider to be appropriate breeds contempt for the law. It breeds suspicion of the law, and makes exactly the kind of people who need to cooperate with law enforcement unwilling to do so, because they experience it as harassment. How would you respond to that?
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Well, that's true. I mean, you could make that argument against all police stops, particularly traffic stops, regardless of the race or ethnicity of the person. And it's a matter of do you have a good cop who obeying the law, or a bad cop? And because there are some good cops who go fishing with questionable traffic stops, I'm not about to remove the right of police officers that do traffic stops. And the same is true with illegal immigration, because there will be a handful who will racial profiling, I'm not going to take away every valuable tool from the 99 percent of the cops who are decent.
MARTIN: But you're willing to allow some people to be racially profiled is what you're saying.
State Rep. KAVANAGH: No. I can't think of any situation where using somebody's race alone justifies them being stopped. You have to other articulable - in fact, the (unintelligible) decision says, you have to state the reasons why you had reasonable suspicion. You have to be able to say it in a court of law, and not what you discovered the stop. You have to state the reasons before you stopped that you gave you reasonable suspicion. This is routine police procedures that we've doing for half a century.
MARTIN: Representative Chabin, what about Representative Kavanagh's point; that something's got to happen, something's got to be done, that the status quo is just unacceptable? What do you say to that?
State Rep. CHABIN: I would say that's true. But the question is, do the cities and the counties of Arizona have the resources to do it? You know, there's one aspect to this bill that is particularly troubling, and that is that any citizen can sue the city, and there could be civil penalties for the city if they believe that the local jurisdiction is not enforcing the federal immigration law.
And what is disturbing about that, is that that wrecks local jurisdiction of establishing a sense of priority for crime and the direction of resources within the community. If someone has commited murder, and you don't think the prosecuting attorney has prosecuted the person who committed the murder, you can't sue them. You can't sue them for failing to prosecute someone. That is solely the discretion of the county attorney based upon the evidence that they compile.
And everybody respects that every prsecutor in Arizona wants to enforce the law. And therefore, you can't sue them for failing to prosecute. Here, in this bill, in this bill, in this bill, any citizen can stand up and say, oh, you know, the police chiefs and the city council has the wrong priorities. We want them to arrest undocumented workers, and therefore, any cop is subject to a compliant. If someone thinks that someone's raking in a lawn is undocumented, is subject to lawsuit and leads to absolute chaos.
MARTIN: I see what you mean.
State Rep. CHABIN: What's the priority? What is the priority here? Now, does this keep people safe?
MARTIN: I'm sorry, Representative Chabin, we're almost out of time. We have 30 seconds left.
State Rep. CHABIN: I'm sorry.
MARTIN: I just want to ask Representative Kavanagh, do you have a sense of whether the governor is going to sign this bill or not? Because our conversation is hypothetical. Is she going to sign it?
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Yeah, definitely so. She absolutely will. But (unintelligible) Representative Chabin's point...
MARTIN: Fifteen seconds.
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Loser pays in this lawsuit. If the person sues and they lose, they have to pay. That's a deterrent. Right now people can sue the government for everything. Why give them a free ride (unintelligible).
MARTIN: All right, we have to leave it there for now, and I thank you both so much for your time and for your patience with me. John Kavanagh represents the Eighth District in Arizona in the Arizona state house. He joined us on the phone from Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Tom Chabin represents the Second District of Arizona. He joined us from member station KJZZ in Tempe. Thank you both so much.
State Rep. KAVANAGH: Thank you.
State Rep. CHABIN: Thank you.
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