Will A Driver's License Suffice As Proof Of Citizenship In Arizona? Maybe, But Only If You're From Arizona

[media id=12823] One of the claims being made by defenders of Arizona's police-state immigration law is that Latino citizens won't have to carry thei

One of the claims being made by defenders of Arizona's police-state immigration law is that Latino citizens won't have to carry their birth certificate or other proof of citizenship in order to avoid arrest should they have contact with police -- all they need to carry is their driver's license.

Among others making this claim is the bill's co-author, State Sen. Russell Pearce, last week on Neil Cavuto's Fox News show:

Pearce: Citizens aren't required to carry any documentation they weren't required to carry yesterday. In Arizona, if you have a driver's license, a state ID, an identity card, that's presumption that you're in the state legally.

Pearce is far from alone in claiming this. In his NYT op-ed on the law, Kris Kobach -- another key player in the bill's authorship -- wrote the same thing:

Because Arizona allows only lawful residents to obtain licenses, an officer must presume that someone who produces one is legally in the country.

Roy Beck's nativist outfit, NumbersUSA, made a similar claim on its fact sheet:

The majority requests for documentation will take place during the course of other police business such as traffic stops. Because Arizona allows only lawful residents to obtain licenses, an officer must presume that someone who produces one is legally in the country.

And Byron York, in his much-quoted (by conservatives) defense of SB 1070, writes similarly:

But what if the driver of the car had shown the officer his driver's license? The law clearly says that if someone produces a valid Arizona driver's license, or other state-issued identification, they are presumed to be here legally. There's no reasonable suspicion.

Here's what the text of SB 1070 says:

A PERSON IS PRESUMED TO NOT BE AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES IF THE PERSON PROVIDES TO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OR AGENCY ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

1. A VALID ARIZONA DRIVER LICENSE.

2. A VALID ARIZONA NONOPERATING IDENTIFICATION LICENSE.

3. A VALID TRIBAL ENROLLMENT CARD OR OTHER FORM OF TRIBAL IDENTIFICATION.

4. IF THE ENTITY REQUIRES PROOF OF LEGAL PRESENCE IN THE UNITED STATES BEFORE ISSUANCE, ANY VALID UNITED STATES FEDERAL, STATE OR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ISSUED IDENTIFICATION.

But as Stephen Lemon points out, this language is actually pretty startling: You will be presumed to be an illegal alien in Arizona unless you can produce one of these four kinds of ID.

Now, I haven't been able to find anything in Arizona code requiring citizens to carry one of these forms of ID with them at all times. But SB1070 certainly does create that requirement. As Lemons says:

If during any police investigation, a cop has "reasonable suspicion" to think you're in the country illegally, he or she can presume you're an undocumented alien unless you provide one of several forms of ID.

... Subsequently, even U.S. citizens could be held until someone from Immigration and Customs Enforcement is called to sort them out.

Keep in mind that a cop can stop someone and begin the process during the "enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state." That's so broad as to include weed abatement and barking dogs.

But this also raises a huge question: What if you're from another state? What if you're only carrying an out-of-state driver's license?

Many states refuse to require proof of citizenship when issuing driver's licenses: they wisely understand that it's more important to have people driving their roads with licenses and documentation than not, and requiring citizenship papers is a good way to discourage it.

So if someone -- say, a fourth-generation Latino citizen with an accent -- traveling through Arizona with a California or a Washington driver's license has the misfortune to be pulled over in a traffic stop -- or maybe just one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's roadblocks -- and has the similar misfortune to arouse an officer's "reasonable suspicion" (say, he has a heavy accent or looks nervous), he could be hauled in and arrested under SB 1070, until someone back home can fax the birth certificate.

Finally, as much as the law's apologists might make this claim, the reality is that Latino drivers in Arizona are already being arrested for failing to carry a birth certificate of proof of citizenship. Remember this fellow?

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He first showed the officers who arrested him his driver's license.

All this would explain why ConsumerTraveler.com issued the following advisory:

U.S. legal resident aliens, and especially U.S. citizens, normally don’t carry proof of their immigration status or citizenship, when traveling domestically. In fact, most U.S. citizens don’t even have proof of citizenship. Fewer than 22% of Americans have passports, and probably fewer than 30% have “certified” birth certificates. Most Americans only have “hospital” birth certificates. U.S. Citizens could carry their passport, passport card, certified birth certificate if born in the U.S., or naturalization papers to prove citizenship, but that would be a first for U.S. citizens, traveling in their own country, to have to prove citizenship.

After reviewing the new law, and carefully considering the statements of the law’s supporters and critics, especially if you’re a swarthy skinned traveler in Arizona, I’d recommend you carry proof of U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status to avoid possible detention, if this law goes into effect.

Travel agents with whom I’ve spoken are unanimous, that if the law goes into effect, they will add a strongly worded advisory, to all client invoices and itineraries for travel to or through Arizona, to carry proof of citizenship or legal immigration status.

And if you live in Arizona, I would not count on the assurances of Russell Pearce and Kris Kobach. Because a driver's license may get you off the hook -- or maybe not. It'll depend on the officer, apparently.

Sure sounds like a police state to me.

About David Neiwert

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