The recently-passed Arizona immigration law is being subjected to a constant stream of irresponsible and ignorant demagoguery. In a total sellout to the forces of multiculturalism, the mainstream media have been guilty of the kind of sloppy work that ought to earn a failing grade from any journalism professor.
Appearing in The New York Times, for example, was an opinion piece whose author asserted, "Breathing while undocumented, without a civil liberties lawyer at hand, is now a perilous activity anywhere in Arizona." That's demagoguery: appealing to the emotions using lies and falsehoods. It's no more rational a statement than saying "breathing while robbing a bank is now a perilous activity."
It is not the breathing which is perilous, it is the illegal crossing of a national boundary.
Not content with that bit of misrepresentation, the Times followed it up with the paper's own editorial a few days later, which made this claim: "The statute requires police officers to stop and question anyone who looks like an illegal immigrant." That is dead wrong. The newspaper once considered by many to be the best in America substantially distorted and misrepresented the statute. It actually prohibits the police from stopping and questioning anyone on the basis of looking like an immigrant. The bill is only operative if someone had already been stopped for some other reason: never for looking like an illegal immigrant.
The Arizona immigration law simply makes being illegally present in the United States, by definition a violation of federal law, a violation of Arizona law also. Why? To give Arizona law enforcement personnel making "a lawful stop" the authority to question and detain or arrest persons who are reasonably suspected of being present illegally in that portion of the United States known as Arizona. The legal term to describe this is "concurrent jurisdiction." It's the same principle as giving state police jurisdiction on city streets or military bases.
Talking to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Bill Weir asked, "Will you grab people on street corners?" Similarly, Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera, with Sheriff Arpaio on the program, said to Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, "if you were walking around the streets of Phoenix, Sheriff Joe might stop you. You look sort of Latino," although moments earlier, Sheriff Arpaio had made clear that the officer would need to have had some other probable cause for stopping the suspect and that ethnicity was no basis for doing so. Furthermore, he pointed out that the law requires some basis for reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped was illegally in this country. Weir's and Rivera's outrageous intimations come from professional journalists who should know better.
My friend Michael Gerson, writing in the Washington Post, repeats the liberal talking point that requiring aliens to carry identification recalls the dark nightmares of Nazis demanding "Where are your papers?" Really? Federal law already requires that they do so; the new Arizona law only makes it a state requirement as well, one no more onerous than the requirement to show a driver's license when stopped by the police while operating a motor vehicle. It is nonsensical for Gerson to suggest that "the distinctly American response to such a request would be 'Go to hell.'" Is that what he would say if stopped by the police and asked to produce a driver's license? He would be more likely to wind up in jail than the officer would be to wind up in hell as a result of that snippy exchange. Why would the Washington Post print such hokum?
The Arizona law does not take effect for ninety days after its passage, giving ample opportunity to debate its constitutionality prior to the law's effective date. The concept of concurrent liability for the same crime at both state and federal levels deserves to be examined closely, but the way that the news media have misrepresented the statute in their treatment of it to date has been so egregious that the public debate is almost wholly irrelevant to the legal tests. The national hysteria over the Arizona bill is both irresponsible and ignorant. People are being whipped into an emotional lather to express their opposition to provisions that the bill does not even contain. This kind of shameful irresponsibility by some of the most prestigious members of the journalistic profession will only contribute to further declines in the public's trust in the media, and contribute not at all to educating the public on a matter of grave importance.