Arizona may now require officers to ask for proof of legal status of people they stop for other reasons and suspect are in the country illegally. State law enforcement officials said the decision immediately made the job of Arizona’s street cops much more complicated, requiring them to conduct traffic stops and other activities with a new level of public scrutiny.
Critics have said the new police authority could lead to racial profiling. Obama administration officials, who had publicly dismissed the law as unconstitutional, warned that it would be watching closely for federal civil rights violations.
With officers across Arizona forced to walk a tightrope of legal complexity, cash-strapped municipalities also worry they could soon be defending a flurry of lawsuits by the federal government, civil rights activists and irate motorists â€” distracting police from their main goal of fighting crime.
“We absolutely expect lawsuits on both sides of this issue,” said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor. “This will result in our officers being tied up in court rather than working on the streets to reduce crime.”
John Bennett, president of the Arizona Assn. of Chiefs of Police, said he expected “bumps in the road” in executing the new law.
“On the street, who knows what’s going to happen?” he said. “We’re going to enforce this law. There may be problems, but no matter what you do as a police department, you’re always subject to litigation.”
Though the court gave the go-ahead to a key provision of Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, it also warned that people could not be held for extended periods for not having proper immigration papers.
Within hours of the high court’s ruling, Brewer, a Republican, emphasized that police immigration checks based on reasonable suspicion during legal stops was now the law in her state.
“We will move forward instructing law enforcement to begin practicing what the United States Supreme Court has upheld,” she said, adding that Arizona officers would be responsible in their actions. “Civil rights will be protected. Racial profiling will not be tolerated.”