Yesterday, Arizona lawmakers made a handful of changes to the immigration bill Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) recently signed into effect that appear to be in response to many of the criticisms aimed at the bill. One of those changes replaces the phrase “lawful contact” with “lawful stop, detention or arrest” to “apparently clarify that officers don’t need to question a victim or witness about their legal status.” However, the legislature also implemented a third change that some call “frightening.” As part of the amended bill, a police officer responding to city ordinance violations would also be required to determine the immigration status of an individual they have reasonable suspicion of being an undocumented immigrant.
Wonk Room recently obtained an email written by Kris Kobach, a lawyer at the Immigration Reform Law Institute — the group which credits itself with writing the bill — to Arizona state Sen. Russell Pierce (R), urging him to include language that will allow police to use city ordinance violations such as “cars on blocks in the yard” as an excuse to “initiate queries” in light of the “lawful contact” deletion:
To begin with, Kobach’s correspondence affirms that though the bill was proposed and passed in Arizona, the shots are being called by a small group of lawyers whose office is based in Washington, DC. It also indicates that after vigorously defending his bill and its “lawful contact provision” in the New York Times, Kobach may have had second thoughts about the constitutionality of the bill he prides himself with writing.
More importantly, Kobach is basically admitting to Pearce that by allowing police to use the violation of “any county or municipal ordinance” as a basis for inquiring about a person’s immigration status, the bill will still cast a wide enough net to help offset the effect of omitting the “lawful contact” language which would’ve allowed police to ask just about anyone they encounter about their immigration status. The examples Kobach provides, “cars on blocks in the yard” or “too many occupants of a rental accommodation,” suggest that net will mostly end up being cast over the poor.
In an email to Wonk Room, David Leopold — president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association — wrote:
Kobach’s email to Pearce is chilling. Knowing full well that the phrase “lawful contact” must go (a flip flop from the position he took yesterday in the New York Times) he recommends tweaking the law in a manner that would appear to allow profiling. Why else would he be interested in using property or rental codes to ferret out undocumented people? Is he aware of some credible study that shows unauthorized aliens from say Ireland or Canada, or some other country tend to put their cars on blocks and/or overcrowd apartments? Kris Kobach and Senator Pearce owe Arizonans and the nation an immediate explanation. Note: it appears the email was written by Kobach on Wednesday evening before his op-ed ran in the New York Times the next morning. The op-ed argued that the Arizona law as written was legal. If he was working on changing it why then did he let the New York Times piece run?