For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state 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.As for the legal side of the thing, first, "lawful contact" may be the most broad language ever written in the history of American legislation. It encompasses almost anything apart from an explicitly illegal traffic stop (which almost doesn't exist anymore: one mph over the speed limit, faulty tail light, "you looked like you were swerving within you lane", you vaguely fit the description of an alleged malfeasor, etc.) or the police barging into your home without a warrant. Basically, lawful contact is not a limitation at all, let alone a reasonable one.
Second, the Constitution’s equal protection clause forbids the government from differentiating between anyone, including illegal immigrants, on the basis of race. Under the Arizona law no one has suggested any other potential grounds for the police to reasonably suspect someone is an illegal immigrant besides the fact that they have Latin American-colored skin. What else could possibly fall under "reasonable suspicion"? I can't think of anything. Governmental racism is, bluntly, unconstitutional.
Third, being an illegal immigrant is a crime of status. There are no other real objective facts besides skin color that would indicate that a person is here illegally, unless a police officer actually saw them sneak across the border. Without objective facts beyond skin color, any time a police officer stopped someone asking for proof of legal residency would be an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.
All of this was impressed upon Arizona in fairly strident terms and, as a result, they decided to change the language a little to read, instead of "lawful contact," "lawful stop, detention or arrest." Slightly, but not much, better. This change may or may not improve the legal side of the bill but it doesn't improve our basic approach to immigration.
It is important to first dispel a nasty bit of false information and state that immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than U.S. citizens. These are not inherently violent people. They come here, almost universally, to get a job and, more often than not, to send the money to family back home in Latin America. This makes for a complicated economic issue.
One the one hand businesses love illegal immigrants because they provide cheap labor. They cannot avoid paying sales tax and gasoline tax and the like. On the other hand they are likely taking jobs away from legal Americans, likely suppressing wages overall, likely not paying any income taxes while likely taking advantage of things like public schools and hospitals, and likely not spending very much money in our economy as they send a huge amount back home. This last point, euphemistically called remittances apparently, is fascinating because it represents Mexico's second largest form of income behind the oil industry. It's a mixed economic bag but probably mostly negative.
The moral bag, on the other hand, is less mixed, in my opinion. I think we fail to take into account how much of this is our fault. I cannot abide arguments that we, the United States, should never admit our weaknesses, and here is a pretty glaring one. The reason illegal immigration is mixed up in our minds with violence is almost completely related to the drug smuggling. Guess what, America, if we weren't so addicted to heroin, cocaine, and, to a lesser extent, marijuana, there wouldn't be drug smuggling problems. We have created a huge market for illegal drugs and, as a result, a huge problem with violence. Mexico's number one problem, and the number one reason regular old non-drug related immigration is at the levels it currently is, is tied directly to our insatiable appetite for drugs. The corruption and violence in Mexico, leading to a depressed economy and emigration to the United States, is caused by the drug cartels. Take away America's need for drugs and we take away the immigration problem.
No amount of harsh language and unconstitutional legislation will fix this problem. We will only fix the problem by partnering with Mexico to reduce drug trafficking. And racist laws like Arizona's will make it more difficult to work with Mexico, exacerbating the problem.
But more than that we have to ask ourselves how moral our general attitudes are regarding immigration. And the church has made clear that this is a moral issue more than a political one. The church's stance on illegal immigration was given by Elder Marlin K. Jensen: "The church's view of someone in undocumented status is akin, in a way, to a civil trespass. There is nothing inherent or wrong about that status." He stated that immigration legislation should be enacted in a "spirit of compassion." In response to criticisms of this position church spokesman Mark Tuttle said, "I wonder how they'd feel about the second great commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself. It's not an answer to your question, but it's another question." Actually, it seems like a perfect answer to those criticisms.
Now go back and look at Arizona's approach to illegal immigration, and the anti-immigration rhetoric being spewed throughout Utah and the United States, and members of the church. Does it seem infused with a spirit of compassion?
Additionally, should we be morally satisfied by arbitrarily drawing a line on the map and telling the people below that line that they must live in poverty while we above that line live in wealth? Especially considering that they did not choose where they were born any more than we did? Would we treat Canadian or English immigrants like we treat the darker-skinned Mexican immigrants? Knowing how successful the church is in Latin America, should we really be looking down on these immigrants and wanting nothing more than to put them in prison or send them back from whence they came? Are we truly treating them like equal children of God?
It is an incredibly complicated issue. I understand that there are national security implications, economic implications, and counter-moral implications. None of this is lost on me. But it seems that too many of us are staking out dubious moral and ethical positions that are not in harmony with the Gospel's spirit of compassion.