University of Pittsburgh
February 27, 2012

Pitt Law Professor Says Arizona Immigration Law Flawed

David Harris can discuss the aspects of the case to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly the requirement that police question those they stop about their immigration status
Contact:  412-624-4147


PITTSBURGH—In December, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on Arizona’s Immigration Law, which has been challenged as not being reconciled with federal immigration laws and policies. David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh professor of law, can discuss the case to be argued this spring before the court, particularly the requirement that police question those they stop about their immigration status. 

Harris, Distinguished Faculty Scholar and associate dean for research at Pitt, is available to provide commentary on the repercussions of Arizona’s approach. Following are several points he is available to discuss.

•  According to Harris, the Arizona law virtually guarantees that there will be ethnic profiling of people who “look Mexican” and/or have Spanish accents, because immigration crimes are “status crimes”—crimes that involve no visible conduct once the person is in the country.

•  Harris states that most law enforcement agencies in Arizona strongly oppose the Arizona law because it hurts their ability to fight crime in immigrant communities and throughout the jurisdiction.

•  Though the bill is focused on enforcement by police, requiring them to enforce the immigration law, it is really about something else, Harris says: attrition. By threatening to enforce or enforcing to a small degree, the hope is that immigrants, both legal and illegal, will simply leave out of fear or to seek a better life elsewhere.

•  Laws such as these, Harris says, have been accompanied by a rise in violent crime, by longer wait times for responses to 911 distress calls, and by diversion of resources from crime fighting. The Arizona law also has done very little to fight human smuggling or other serious crimes associated with illegal immigration, he adds.

Author of Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work (The New Press, 2002), Harris says that practices like racial and ethnic profiling that break down bonds between police and citizens must be discouraged. “For our police to do the best job they can, they have to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime,” Harris said. “Being smart means using intelligence, and that means cultivating strong relationships and real partnerships with the communities police serve, because the best source of intelligence is the members of the community.”

Profiles in Injustice led to federal efforts to address profiling and to legislation and voluntary efforts in more than half the states and hundreds of police departments. Harris also is the author of Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing (The New Press, 2005), which uses case studies from around the country to show that citizens need not trade liberty for safety: They can be safe from criminals and terrorists without sacrificing their civil rights if law enforcement uses strategies based on prevention.

Harris does professional training for law enforcement officers, judges, and attorneys throughout the nation and internationally and with public officials and citizens’ groups locally and nationally to improve police services and public safety.

Harris writes and comments frequently in the media on police practices, racial profiling, and other criminal justice and national security issues. He has appeared on NBC’s Today show, CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, and National Public Radio, and he has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, among other media outlets. In 1996, Harris served as a member of the Civil Liberties Advisory Board to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. In November, Harris testified at a hearing before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, titled “Twenty-first Century Law Enforcement: How Smart Policing Targets Criminal Behavior.”




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