Law professors on AZ law: Racial profiling is not illegal

Liz Goodwin

Supporters and opponents of the controversial new Arizona immigration law don't agree on much — save that it's not legitimate to use racial profiling to enforce it, or any other immigration statute.

Oddly enough, however, federal law parts company with this consensus.  A landmark 1975 Supreme Court case endorsed racial profiling in immigration cases, and federal enforcers continue using the controversial practice in upholding immigration law — as University of Arizona law professor Gabriel J. Chin and University of California, Davis, law professor Kevin R. Johnson point out in today's Washington Post.

In practical terms, this means that Arizona's law also permits racial profiling, Chin and Johnson argue, since the law states that police officers should not use race as a factor in enforcement "except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution." (Read the law here).

In United States vs. Brignoni-Ponce (1975), the Supreme Court ruled that Border Patrol officers can use physical appearance as grounds to stop people and question them about their immigration status, since the "likelihood that any given person of Mexican ancestry is an alien is high enough to make Mexican appearance a relevant factor."

The professors argue the 1975 precedent should be overturned.