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Let me see your papers

Arizona’s new law essentially requiring police to demand “papers” from anyone they might believe to be undocumented sure looks like institutionalized racial profiling. But state Rep. Frank Antenori claims that the legislation is benign. “[Police] just can’t pull somebody over,” he said. “They have to be pulled over for violating traffic laws. They have to be called to investigate a crime or something along those lines to create the lawful contact. And then, they have to have reasonable suspicion.”

That didn’t happen in Phoenix, two days before the law was even signed, as a Latino trucker was pulled aside while weighing in at a roadside truck scale, handcuffed after producing his commercial driver’s license and Social Security card and hauled off to an immigration detention center. You see, he wasn’t carrying his birth certificate to prove he was born in Fresno, Calif.

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The law is already spurring calls for boycotts and threats of legal challenges, mostly focused on the racial profiling provisions. But there is a lesser-known provision that could prove even more costly to the state and its municipalities: “A person may bring an action in Superior Court to challenge any official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state that adopts or implements a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”

In other words, citizens can sue their local governments if they don’t feel that cops are aggressively purging all undocumented immigrants.

Further, the law awards plaintiffs with full attorney and court fees if successful, and prescribes penalties of between $1,000 and $5,000 per day if municipalities are deemed to have continued to inadequately enforce the law after the filing of the lawsuit.

One doesn’t have to go far out on a limb to predict a rash of such lawsuits by anti-immigrant zealots, angry that undocumented immigrants might be escaping the harsh new law. In fact, that’s the reason the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police strongly opposed the measure, arguing that poor rural communities would be particularly harmed if forced to defend from such lawsuits. “They may not have an attorney,” their lobbyist testified at a hearing. “They barely have [enough] police.”

As a result, municipalities will have to weigh whether to shift police resources away from public safety and into an aggressive campaign against their jurisdiction’s dark-skinned population, or face angry lawsuits.

Even an all-out assault on undocumented immigrants (and those who “look” undocumented) might not be enough to stave off the legal hounds. Nativists expect the elimination of all undocumented immigrants — an ethnic cleansing impossible in a state with up to half a million undocumented workers. The failure to achieve a complete purge will be prima facie evidence to these radicals that the municipalities aren’t fully enforcing immigration laws. The resulting litigation will cost governments and their police forces valuable time and scarce dollars defending themselves — time and money that could be better spent protecting residents from real criminals. And if proven insufficiently xenophobic by a court of law, the resulting penalties would strip those municipalities of funds for their schools, public safety departments and other valuable government services.

To Republicans, that might actually be a feature of the law, not a bug. If they can’t get rid of the brown people washing their dishes, mowing their lawns and harvesting their crops, they can console themselves with destroying local governments — always a key conservative priority.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos.