ACLU of Florida Vows Legal Challenge to Rep. Snyder’s Proposed Arizona-Style Racial Profiling Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 7, 2011 12:00 am

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MIAMI – The ACLU of Florida today voiced strong opposition to State Rep. William Snyder’s proposed Arizona-style immigration legislation.

“The immigration enforcement bill proposed by Rep. Snyder is un-American and unconstitutional,” stated Danielle Prendergast, ACLU of Florida Director of Public Policy. “The tactics that the bill prescribes for law enforcement in Florida are the hallmarks of a ‘police state.’ Despite language that superficially purports to prohibit enforcement based on race and national origin, in reality, those are the only factors police can look into.

This bill orders law enforcement officers throughout Florida to use racial profiling as a tool, and color of skin, accent or other racial and ethnic as a proxy for “reasonable suspicion. Any legislation that does so will face a legal challenge by the ACLU, and will likely suffer the same fate that the notorious Arizona SB 1070 suffered at the hands of the federal court.”

The full text of the ACLU’s statement follows:

This legislation gives discretion to every law enforcement official in Florida who stops anyone for any infraction to demand papers proving citizenship or immigration status from people who they stop based on a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is unlawfully present in the United States. “Any infraction” could include having a broken taillight, jaywalking or having an overgrown lawn – and then asked for their papers if police believe, just by looking at them, that they could be in the country unlawfully.

That means that U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike (including tourists, resident aliens and other non-citizens who are in the United States legally) will be required to carry papers on them at all times – and show them when demanded under the threat of being charged with the offense of not have papers with them. Presumably, a U.S. Citizen who is unable to show proof of citizenship would be detained and perhaps turned over to ICE until their citizenship status is resolved. These tactics are the hallmarks of a “police state,” more often associated with totalitarian regimes Presumably, a U.S. Citizen who is unable to show proof of citizenship would be detained and perhaps turned over to ICE until their citizenship status is resolved.

“Reasonable suspicion” is a legal term that describes a well developed doctrine in criminal law that has no application in the context of immigration violations. Reasonable suspicion requires an officer’s judgment based upon a suspect’s behavior. For example, an officer may have reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior if a person appears to be casing a department store by looking in the display windows late at night on a deserted street and looking around to see if anyone is watching him. An officer could then question and briefly detain the suspect.

On the other hand, the reasonable suspicion doctrine cannot be constitutionally applied in the context of determining citizenship or legal status, because people unlawfully present in the country don’t behave differently from anyone else. As a result, the only thing law enforcement will base “suspicion” of immigration violations on is race, perception of national origin or the accent with which the person speaks. Thus, this bill requires racial and ethnic profiling in its enforcement, notwithstanding the provision that purports to disallow it.

The only way in which the bill could be implemented in the real world of law enforcement by any “law enforcement agency of this state or of a county, municipality or other political subdivision of this state” is that color of skin, accent or other racial and ethnic profiling techniques will be used as a proxy for “reasonable suspicion.”

The approach offered by this Bill is precisely how State officials in Arizona attempted to use state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law. That effort has been enjoined by a federal judge as intruding on the exclusive authority of the federal government and may cost that state hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

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