Show Me Your Papers?

As of this week Arizona’s clumsy and, to some, irritating immigration laws take effect, the most relevant being the one called Show Me Your Papers. This law says that when a police officer pulls you over and suspects you of being an illegal immigrant they can ask to see your visa or other documentation that proves that you are in the United States legally. This is a very unusual law and has been met with a great deal of criticism. Even though it is a federal misdemeanor to be a permanent resident and travel without your green card, the fine is very small and enforcement of this rule is not actively sought. In fact, most places find it rather difficult to really charge anyone with this minor crime.

One of the primary criticisms of this new provision is its potential for becoming a tool for racial profiling. Take for example two different and hypothetical immigrants one from Russia and the other from Argentina. Both are doctors who came here on H-1B visas which they then parlayed into employment category green cards. However, the Argentinian doctor went a step farther by becoming a naturalized citizen last year. The Russian doctor still has to wait a year before he can apply for citizenship. If they were both driving through Arizona, critics of the law say, the Argentinian man would be asked to produce documentation that he is a legal resident in the United States, whereas the Russian doctor would be overlooked. However, proponents of the bill claim that both would be asked to produce documentation if there was reasonable suspicion that they were immigrants.

This brings up another criticism of the bill that has been discussed as of late: The sheer inconvenience of having to produce documentation that shows that you are a legal resident of the United States every time you get pulled over. After all, when you’re a citizen of the United States you probably don’t have to remember to grab your citizenship certificate when you leave the house in the morning. And what if you don’t have your green card on you when you get pulled over? Would the officer arrest you until you are able to produce the document? This seems to be a little heavy-handed.

Though the court system has upheld the Show Me Your Papers law, it is bound to bring some level of conflict between Arizona law enforcement and the federal agencies in charge of immigration enforcement. It is almost an absolute certainty that this law will be challenged many times in its years of activity, and quite possibly for many other reasons than the ones listed above.