Arizona encourages police to emulate "the toughest sheriff in America."
A few years ago, David and Jessica Rodriguez were leaving Arizona's Bartlett Lake with their two children when they accidentally headed down a road that had been closed because of rain damage. They were stopped by deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, who demanded documentation from David Rodriguez, including his Social Security card, and cited him for failing to obey a road sign.
Although several other motorists made the same mistake around the same time, the deputies simply warned them about the washed-out road and let them go. Unlike David and Jessica Rodriguez, who are U.S. citizens of Latino descent, the other drivers were white.
This sort of experience, poisonous to the principle of legal equality, is bound to become more common as a result of Arizona's new law requiring police to investigate the immigration status of people they encounter in the course of their work. Even with the revisions that the state legislature approved last week in response to concerns about racial profiling, the new law encourages police to emulate Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio by seizing upon any excuse to hunt for illegal immigrants.
A 2008 quote from Arpaio, reported by The Arizona Republic, gives you an idea of his approach. The self-described "toughest sheriff in America" complained that concerns about probable cause were preventing arrests of Latinos who might be illegal residents. "I wish that the Phoenix police would arrest everybody," he said, "even if they're not sure."
David and Jessica Rodriguez were detained during one of Arpaio's "crime suppression" sweeps, which involve traffic stops that provide a pretext for checking Latinos' immigration status. The state legislature has invited more use of this technique by amending the immigration law to specify that police should demand proof of legal residence only during "a stop, detention or arrest" related to enforcement of another law.
If speeding, broken taillights, cracked windshields and unfastened seatbelts do not provide sufficient opportunities for immigration checks, police can use local ordinances regulating things like noise, yard upkeep and the number of people living in one residence. Reports about violations of such rules, even if unfounded, trigger the obligation to do an immigration check when there is "reasonable suspicion" that someone is "unlawfully present in the United States."