When we’re in Arizona, my kids like to visit Rawhide.  Located in the Gila River Indian Community, you can take a stage coach ride, pan for gold, and eat rattlesnake appetizers.  Gun slinging cowboys duel in the street until only the winner is left standing.

Arizona is proud of its wild, wild west heritage.

In those days, disputes were often resolved in favor of the party who had the most fury.  Quite often, fairness and reason were not factors.

Today the tough guy infatuation carries over to immigration issues.

Earlier this week, the Arizona House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 1070 by a 35-21 vote.  The measure mirrors a similar bill approved by the Arizona State Senate a few weeks ago.  Both supporters and opponents assert the bill is the strongest anti-immigrant legislation in the past decade.

What Is Arizona State Bill 1070?

Under SB 1070 Arizona police officers are required to investigate the immigration status of every person whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the United States unlawfully.

At present, officers in Arizona can only inquire about someone’s immigration status if the person is a suspect in a crime.

In addition, under SB 1070, citizens can sue to compel police agencies to obey the law, and no city or agency can formulate a policy which directs its workers to ignore the law.  If a court determines an agency has violated the law, it will be forced to pay up to $5,000 for every day it failed to follow the law.

In practical terms, the new law would require everyone living in Arizona to carry documents with them at all times to avoid being arrested and detained.  SB 1070 makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigrant papers.

Immigrant advocates question the meaning of “reasonable suspicion.”  As an immigration deportation defense attorney, I appreciate their concerns.  What will constitute reasonable suspicion?

Opponents Speak Out

Several prominent opponents have voiced their disagreement with SB 1070.

Speaking in Arizona a few weeks ago, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, noted her strong opposition to legislation aimed at criminalizing undocumented immigrants.  While governor of Arizona, she vetoed similar bills on three occasions.  The SB 1070 approach, asserts Napolitano, is “not the best way to structure your law-enforcement and immigration enforcement system.”

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon also opposes the bill.  In his view, the effort is “misguided” and “based on hate and bigotry.”

In addition, the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police has voiced its dissent.  AACOP, which represents police chiefs across Arizona, stated the bill would open the door to costly lawsuits against agencies already starved for funding and would cause a chilling effect on the reporting of crimes in immigrant communities.

When The Wild, Wild West Meets Political Reality

According to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, the current version of SB 1070 may have civil rights implications.  He notes the bill could be changed before it is sent to the governor for signature.

The Arizona State Senate will take another look at the bill this week, starting Monday, April 20, 2010.  After their deliberations, it will likely be sent to Governor Brewer.  Once it arrives on her desk, she has five days to sign it, veto it, or do nothing and allow it to become law.

The ACLU and other organizations are preparing to file legal actions to stop the bill from taking effect if the governor signs it into law.  Relying on a 2005 New Hampshire state court decision, they argue only the federal government has the authority to enforce immigration regulations.

The showdown is near.

As you’re reminded at Rawhide, real tough hombres like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, and Doc Holiday walked local streets not too long ago.  Their political imitators will pace the Arizona legislative floors on Monday.

Like the old gunfight days, for those in favor of SB 1070, the road to dispute resolution is simple.  Shoot first.  Deal with consequences later.