Legislators in states attempting to copy Arizona’s immigration law should consider whether looking tough on immigrants is worth risking public safety.

Law enforcement officials across the country have panned Arizona’s SB 1070, and many of them undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief when a federal judge blocked its most harmful provisions last month.

Arizona’s law would have tied the hands of Arizona’s police, forcing them to prioritize hunting down immigrants over fighting crime.

And if local police didn’t pursue this immigration verification mandate with adequate zeal, the law provided a means for any private citizen with an axe to grind to file a suit against them.

There are few police chiefs who have made it through our economic recession without cutbacks, leaving them with even fewer means with which to keep the peace. A law like Arizona’s would further divert these resources and ensure that other high-priority police activities receive less funding and attention.

Police chiefs across the country have long maintained that they are best able to keep the peace when they are trusted by all the communities they serve. Laws like Arizona’s would erode ties between the immigrant community and the police. This would greatly complicate the work of law enforcement. Immigrants who were victims of, or witnesses to, crimes would be much less likely to cooperate with police.

In describing his opposition to Arizona’s law, San Francisco Police Chief and former Arizona law enforcement officer George Gascon warned that Arizona’s law would have an adverse impact on all communities, creating a “vacuum in law enforcement” that would “embolden the criminal element.” Furthermore, police chiefs from red and blue states alike have stated that Arizona’s law is unenforceable without resorting to profiling individuals based on factors such as the color of their skin or an accent in their speech.

Racial and ethnic profiling isn’t just morally abhorrent. It’s also illegal.

Law enforcement officers tasked with upholding a law like Arizona’s will be caught in the undesirable position of being mandated to engage in legally questionable police activities in order to comply with a misguided law.

Proponents of these copycat laws say that immigrants bring crime. But they aren’t looking at the facts: FBI statistics show that crime has actually decreased in cities along the U.S./Mexico border during a period of increased immigration.

In the next year or so, elected officials from Georgia to Utah may face the prospect of voting on legislation similar to the Arizona law. It would behoove legislators in these states to think beyond polls and soundbites and reject an approach that would endanger the public safety of us all.


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