Next up, the Bill heads to the floor of the House of Delegates for approval. House Bill Number 1060, introduced by Delegate Richard L. Anderson of Prince William County, reflects the Virginia legislature’s recent efforts to crack down on illegal-immigration. Section 19.2-83.3 of the new version of the Bill reads:
Whenever any person is lawfully arrested and taken into custody by a law-enforcement officer, the officer shall inquire as to whether the arrestee is legally present in the United States. If, following the inquiry, the law-enforcement officer has reason to believe that the arrestee may not be legally present in the United States, he shall communicate to the judicial officer the facts and circumstances underlying his belief. The judicial officer shall take such facts and circumstances into consideration when discharging his duties pursuant to § 19.2-120.
While on its face, the Bill may not seem contrary to the present law, an accompanying Fiscal Impact Statement explains, “[t]his [B]ill expands such [citizenship] inquiries by requiring inquiries of everyone arrested, independent of whether they were taken into custody at a jail.”
Champions of the Bill are quick to divert the conversation away from activists and towards community safety, claiming that only true criminals will be subject to a citizenship status check. Delegate Anderson asserted that “[t]his [B]ill deals with what happens after a person has committed an illegal act. It has nothing whatsoever to do with identifying or profiling people on the street. It applies equally to everyone no matter how they look, no matter how they talk, no matter how they walk." The fallacy in Anderson’s argument, however, is that the Bill will not only deal with people who have committed illegal acts. Guilt does not attach with the handcuffs of an arresting officer. Anderson is forgetting that the Constitution guarantees a trial by jury before an individual is deemed a criminal.
This notion is supported by the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Robinson, where the Court found that a traffic violation arrest was not invalid despite the fact that the arrest was a mere pretext for a narcotics search. This ruling essentially allows law enforcement to subjectively decide which laws apply to each citizen according to their perceived race. Thus, if an officer sees a white person commit a minor crime, he may choose not to detain the person, but if an officer sees a person who “looks un-American,” he may use that as a pretext to unnecessarily detain and arrest the individual for a citizenship status check. This type of racial profiling undoubtedly constitutes institutionalized discrimination. Even setting racial profiling arguments aside, making trivial arrests of minorities just to enable a citizenship status check is an enormous waste of police resources.
If our choice is to uphold a system in which law enforcement is not held objectively responsible for their actions, bills like House Bill Number 1060 cannot be passed into law. The existence of unaccountable law enforcement along with racially motivated statutes will only breed more instances of discrimination and racial profiling in our society and disproportionately sacrifice the constitutional rights of targeted minorities in our communities.
Ali Eacho,Blogger, Criminal Law Brief
Image by Grendelkhan