The recently passed Arizona immigration law is being subjected to a constant stream of irresponsible and ignorant demagoguery. In their total sellout to the political left and the forces of multiculturalism, the mainstream media have been guilty of the kind of sloppy work that ought to earn a failing grade from any self-respecting journalism professor.
The once-widely respected New York Times published an opinion piece whose author asserted, “Breathing while undocumented, without a civil liberties lawyer at hand, is now a perilous activity anywhere in Arizona.” That’s demagoguery: appealing to the emotions by using lies and falsehoods. It’s no more rational a statement than saying “breathing while robbing a bank is now a perilous activity.” It is not the breathing that is perilous; it is the robbing of the bank, or, in this case, the illegal crossing of a national boundary.
The Arizona immigration law simply makes being illegally present in the United States, which is by definition a violation of federal law, now a violation of Arizona law as well. Why? So that Arizona law enforcement officers can have jurisdiction to question and detain or arrest persons who are suspected of being illegally present in that portion of the United States known as Arizona. The legal term to describe this is “concurrent jurisdiction.” It’s the same principle as giving state police jurisdiction on city streets or military bases.
Talking to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on ABC’s Good Morning America, Bill Weir asked, “Will you grab people on street corners?” Similarly, Fox News Channel’s Geraldo Rivera, with Sheriff Arpaio on the same program, said to Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, “if you were walking around the streets of Phoenix, Sheriff Joe might stop you. You look sort of Latino,” although moments earlier, Sheriff Arpaio had made clear that the officer would need to have had some other probable cause for stopping the suspect and that ethnicity was no basis for doing so. Furthermore, he pointed out that the law requires some basis for reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped was illegally in this country. Weir’s and Rivera’s outrageous intimations come from professional journalists who should know better.
My friend Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, says that requiring identification of aliens recalls the dark nightmares of Nazis demanding “where are your papers?” Really? The requirement that non-citizens carry valid identification of legal presence in the U.S. is not a new one imposed by the Arizona statute; it is a long-established federal requirement. It is no more onerous than the requirement to show a driver’s license when stopped by the police while operating a motor vehicle. It is nonsensical for Gerson to suggest “the distinctly American response to such a request would be ‘Go to hell,’ and then ‘See you in court.’” Is that what he would say if stopped by the police and asked to produce a driver’s license? He would be more likely to wind up in jail than the officer would be to wind up in hell as a result of that snappy exchange. Why would the Washington Post print such hokum?
The reason that the Arizona law does not take effect for 90 days after its passage is so that legitimate tests of its constitutionality may be debated prior to the law’s effective date. The concept of concurrent liability for the same crime at both state and federal levels deserves to be examined closely, but the way that the news media have misrepresented the law in their treatment of the statute to date has been so egregious that the public debate is almost wholly irrelevant to those legal tests. This kind of shameful irresponsibility by some of the most prestigious members of the journalistic profession will only contribute to further declines in the public’s trust in the media, and contribute not at all to educating the public on a matter of grave importance.
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring.