The conservative Washington Times newspaper recently pointed out that California law actually mirror's Arizona's controversial new immigration legislation that encourages police to verify the immigration status of suspects they believe are in the country illegally.
The paper quotes California Penal Code section 834b, which states that Golden State law enforcement officers should "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."
Proponents of Arizona's law have argued that it simply mirrors federal immigration legislation that's been on the books for 70 years. (Strangely, Arizona's law is supported by some of the same conservatives who decry "big government" yet who don't mind adding this extra layer of bureaucracy when it comes to immigration).
The Times is right on this one. More of the California language:
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.
This sounds a lot like Arizona's law. In fact, in feels stronger than Arizona's law, which doesn't require cops to check illegal status, but rather encourages a "reasonable attempt" (as we noted previously): " ... A reasonable attempt shall be made [by law enforcement], when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person."
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Los Angeles police, however, are forbidden from carrying out this state directive under the department's own policy. Special Order 40, its backers argue, is in place so that residents who are here illegally don't fear calling police or cooperating in investigations. There are so many immigrants in L.A., the policy's backers have argued, that having them fear police, as they often did in their home countries, would make the LAPD's job that much more difficult when it comes to solving crimes.
It's true that Arizona's law mirrors federal legislation and, now, it appears to reflect California's own official policy on immigration enforcement. But that's besides the point. What backers of the Arizona law might not realize is that opposition is more concerned with the sentiment of the legislation, not its actual effect: If federal law already covers this turf, why bother? Police were free to do exactly what the desert state's SB 1070 outlines.
Opponents of the law, many Latino, feel that this unnecessary move was made precisely to fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly within the Republican party's right wing. It's something they've seen time again: When the economy goes south, it's the illegal immigrant's fault (even as they too go south because work here has dried up). Forget the fact that we all benefit from his labor, from the food on our tables to the shine of the chrome on our cars to the cut of our lawns. Forget the fact that nearly one-third of all illegals aren't from Mexico. We need a villain right now, and he's brown.
The point is that laws like Arizona's hurt the feelings of Latinos who for generations have been trying to prove their American-ness only to be told time and again that the way they look could make them suspect.