Back in 2004, when I visited Russia, one thing more than anything else stood in my mind: the power of the police to “check your papers”. Even after the fall of communism, an agent of the State could, with no provocation, with no reason, with no cause, demand to see your “documentation”. Everyone carried their passports (or their domestic equivalents) around with them at all times. Failure to produce could lead to jail time.
And I remember thinking to myself, “thank God I live in a free country”. Thank God I can walk the streets and not have a policeman demand to know why I’m doing so. Because, despite my (many!) gripes with government, we in the west, to a large degree, are still pretty much free.
Which is why I’m so disturbed by the passage of Arizona SB 1070, which effectively states that members of the police can, at their discretion, demand to see documents proving you are eligible to be in the U.S. if you do not have them on you, they have the power to incarcerate you. Essentially the law gives members of the police power to stop you at whim, and demand to ‘see your papers’.
Now, it is well known I deviate from many libertarians on the issue of migration. Personally, I feel that whilst we should increase the number of migrants, border protection is a legitimate role of the state, and as such, I have relatively little sympathy for those who cross the border illegally (of course, the situation is somewhat different in the U.S. to Australia, because the legal migration system in the U.S. is just so screwed up, but that is beside the point).
Except this is not about immigration. Rather, it is a matter of the role of the state, and whether or not, in a free society, it is okay for the police, with no probable cause, to demand to see your ID.
This kind of state action was considered perfectly acceptable in the old Soviet Bloc. To have it viewed as legitimate in the United States – the “land of freedom” is disturbing at best.
Let us hope the Supreme Court (rightly) strikes it down as unconstitutional posthaste.