What constitutes “reasonable suspicion” that a person being pulled over is an illegal immigrant?
The state of Alabama has recently come under fire for implementing what some consider to be the toughest immigration laws in the country. To be clear, I fully support efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. Not to sound redundant, but illegal immigration is a crime, and like any crime, perpetrators should be punished when caught.
However, there is one part of the law that doesn’t sit well with me; that which pertains to traffic stops:
“Where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the citizenship and immigration status of the person.”
To me, this sounds like an open invitation for harassment. What exactly constitutes “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an illegal immigrant?
To put things into perspective, let’s suppose we’re talking about drunk driving. If a person is pulled over and the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated, the driver can be compelled to undergo a breathalyzer test. However, in this case there would be obvious signs that the driver was breaking the law – they might smell of alcohol; they might stumble or slur their words; they may have been driving erratically.
What exactly does an illegal immigrant smell like? What do they look like? Sound like? Act like? The fact is that unless an officer is blessed with extrasensory perception, they would have no cause to reasonably suspect anyone they pulled over of being an illegal immigrant.
Of course the law goes on to state that “a law enforcement officer may not consider race, color, or national origin,” but can citizens rest assured that this will be the case? Alabama isn’t historically known as a pillar of diversity and equality. Is a person’s Hispanic accent enough to justify “reasonable suspicion?”
If so, then it would certainly be a sad state of affairs. There’s something called racial profiling, and last I checked it was still illegal.
I just hope Alabama’s immigration concerns don’t allow this law to open the door for bigotry and harassment.