Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Are your papers in order?

The Arizona Governor recently signed a bill into law that will give law-enforcement officers in that state the authority to stop anyone they suspect of being an illegal alien to demand proof of citizenship or legal residence.

How do I prove I’m a U.S. citizen to a cop if he pulls me over? I plan on passing through Arizona later this year, so aside from the obvious outrage, this law is of practical concern to me.

I haven’t read the full text of the bill, but it includes the following passage:

A PERSON IS PRESUMED TO NOT BE AN ALIEN WHO IS UNLAWFULLY PRESENT IN THE UNITED STATES IF THE PERSON PROVIDES TO THE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER OR AGENCY ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
1. A VALID ARIZONA DRIVER LICENSE.
2. A VALID ARIZONA NONOPERATING IDENTIFICATION LICENSE.
3. A VALID TRIBAL ENROLLMENT CARD OR OTHER FORM OF TRIBAL IDENTIFICATION.
4. IF THE ENTITY REQUIRES PROOF OF LEGAL PRESENCE IN THE UNITED STATES BEFORE ISSUANCE, ANY VALID UNITED STATES FEDERAL, STATE OR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ISSUED IDENTIFICATION.

I do carry a Texas driver’s license, but I don’t recall whether Texas required “proof of legal presence,” and even if it did, how will an Arizona cop know that? Will cops be issued cheat-sheets showing what IDs are acceptable?

I wanted to cover my bases and know what documents would be sure to satisfy a cop that I’m a U.S. citizen, so I started calling around.

I called the Arizona Office of Tourism, figuring they’d want to make life easier for tourists. The people who answer the phone there are not equipped to do more than mail brochures, so that was not a productive avenue of inquiry.

I next called the Arizona Attorney General’s office. I spoke with a woman who was smart and informed, but was unwilling to give me an answer, as that would constitute giving a legal opinion, which I guess is something she can’t do. She recommended that I call the state’s law library and speak to someone there.

So I did. I got someone who was not especially fazed by my questions, but hadn’t read the bill and wasn’t able to offer any specific guidance. He suggested that I call the primary sponsor of the bill, State Senator Russell Pierce, and gave me his number (602-926-5760).

I called that number and got the senator’s voicemail. I left a brief message and am awaiting a response. I’m not holding my breath.

2 Comments

  1. For those of us who plan to transit Arizona, the question isn’t academic. I looked up the Federal requirements because I don’t have any documents Arizona list in the summary of the legislation:
    A U.S. passport or Passport Card proves both identity and citizenship as do Driver licenses issued by Washington state, Michigan, and New York (the only states that are WHTI compliant – note that Texas is not, therefor a Texas Driver License isn’t proof of either), Native American tribal ID cards (old and enhanced), and the Form I-872 American Indian card.
    The travel.state.gov web site clearly states that, “… [an] old, canceled [after applying for a new one] passport … is considered proof of your U.S. citizenship.”
    U.S. military ID cards and U.S. merchant mariner ID cards prove both identity and permission to be in the U.S. Both can be issued to non-citizens, so do not prove citizenship.
    For non-citizens, an Alien Identification Card or appropriate visa is required.
    Given the fragility and high replacement cost (and hassle factor if lost) of these documents, I’d work with copies and let the police check with the issuing authority. That squares with State Department advice about keeping a copy of your documents and the originals in a “safe place.”

  2. If I gave the impression that I thought this was only an academic question, then my regrets. I consider it a practical, immediate issue.

    As to WHTI IDs—I hadn’t heard of those before. The Arizona law doesn’t mention them explicitly, it only mentions IDs that require proof of citizenship or legal residency to obtain. It looks like Texas would satisfy that requirement, but still, there’s no reason to think that a cop in Arizona would be required to know that.

    Of course, even having appropriate ID is no guarantee you won’t get locked up.

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