New Anti-Immigrant Law Undermines Arizona Public Safety

New Anti-Immigrant Law Undermines Arizona Public Safety

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PHOENIX -- A new law that took effect in Arizona Wednesday, one of several pieces of anti-immigrant legislation, could potentially carry huge ramifications for immigrants, including undermining their public safety, despite the relative lack of attention it has garnered.

SB 1465, sponsored by State Sen. Ron Gould, would prohibit state authorities from recognizing consular identification cards issued by foreign governments as a valid form of ID.

According to the Mexican embassy, some 4 million Mexicans in the United States carry the matricula cards, which are recognized by 265 countries. In Arizona, an estimated half a million individuals have been issued the card.

Prior to the new law taking effect, immigrants could show the card to police to avoid deportation proceedings, but starting Wednesday, immigrants are now required to show further proof of residency.

Critics argue that one of the consequences of the law will be to make immigrants less willing to report crimes to the police because they lack proper identification.

Jaime Farrant, policy director with Border Action Network, which monitors legislation at the state capitol, said SB 1465 and related bills passed under the radar of public scrutiny, despite the impact they are likely to have on immigrant communities in the state.

“All the focus was on the bill involving the 14th Amendment,” he said, a proposal put forward by State Senate President Russell Pearce that sought to deny birthright citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants. The proposal has so far failed to pass.

Officials with the Mexican embassy say they will continue to issue the matricula cards to nationals in the United States, though they are urging individuals to obtain Mexican passports as further proof of identification.

“If people were afraid to report a crime before this law, now it’s going to be even worse,” said Socorro Cordova, a spokesperson for the Mexican Consulate in Phoenix. “This is an issue involving public safety,” she added.

Cordova noted that during the recent Wallow fire, Arizona’s most destructive wildfire to date, the embassy was able to use the cards to collect data on Mexican nationals in need of Spanish interpreters during the massive evacuations that took place.

Among other steps taken in Arizona this week was a move by the state legislature to raise $50 million via online donations for the construction of a border fence along the state line with Mexico, and the formation of a private militia to patrol the border area.

None of the measures are as far reaching as SB 1070, authored by Pearce, a controversial law that took partial effect a year ago and that would have made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. Much of the resistance to the new laws, in fact, came from the state’s business community, which suffered the fallout of a nationwide boycott against Arizona for a package of anti-immigrant bills that would have required demonstrating legal status at schools and hospitals.

Law enforcement officials in Phoenix, meanwhile, say SB1465 will not have an impact on how they carry out their duties since the cards were not recognized as legitimate forms of ID by police officers even before the law took effect.

Steve Martos, spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department, said individuals who could only produce a matricula card during routine traffic stops, for example, were arrested for not carrying valid ID as required by state law.

Martos added that part of the problem is that the cards do not comply with state requirements that all valid forms of ID provide a physical description of the card’s owner, including height, hair and eye color.

Cordova with the embassy says that while that information is not immediately visible on the card, it is there and can be accessed via an electronic reader. This specific feature of the cards was added following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, when critics complained the cards could easily be forged and used by terrorists to gain residency in the country.

The Mesa Police Department used to accept the consular card, said Pastor Magdalena Schwartz of the Disciples of the Kingdom Free Methodist Church, which has hosted a number of community gatherings involving local law enforcement.

Schwartz says she is concerned that the new law could damage the relationship of mutual trust that has developed between Mesa residents and the police department.

“I’m telling people to stay away from driving, and take the bus or the light rail,” she said. But Schwartz emphasized that undocumented immigrants that have chosen to stay in Arizona after SB 1070 are better informed about their rights than immigrants in other states and less fearful of encounters with authorities.

A spokesperson for the Mesa Police Department could not be reached for comment.

Cordova stressed that possessing the card does not now constitute a crime, and that those holding the card will still be able to use it to open a bank account or access local utility services.

Other laws that went on the books Wednesday include SB 1141, which requires both public and private schools to obtain verifiable proof of residency from students. Farrant with Border Action Network says that while the law does not directly pertain to a student’s immigration status, there are concerns over the way it will be implemented.

Another law strengthens penalties for those involved in human smuggling, including individuals known to rent properties used as drop houses by smugglers.

Critics have voiced their concern over the law, saying it could be used to go after the families of undocumented immigrants, in much the same way that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio used a similar law to charge undocumented immigrants with conspiring in their own smuggling.