The Arizona anti-immigration law has gotten a lot of media play. One of the themes of the opponents of the law is that it's a bad idea to allow the government to stop people without suspicion to demand: "Papers, please." Something that reminds us of some other governments throughout history that we'd rather not emulate.
But as I read this case, I was reminded that we do precisely that already. With judicial approval, no less. At sobriety checkpoints.
One could, of course, maintain that both types of stops are perfectly fine. Or one could insist that neither are okay. Those are surely consistent positions.
It's get a little tougher for those who'd maintain that immigration stops aren't okay but sobriety checkpoints are. You could argue, I'm sure, that drunk driving causes greater social harm than illegal immigration, but it seems to me that a legislature could reasonably disagree. There is, of course, the separate problem of racial targeting in immigration stops that doesn't arise in drunk driving checkpoints, but that wouldn't apply to a law that required the police to check everyone for immigration violations, as I understand at least parts of the Arizona law dictate.
Or one could argue that drunk driving stops are less burdensome than sobriety checkpoints, but I'm not sure that's empirically true. The checkpoint at issue here, for example, was on Mission Bay Drive in San Diego. Coincidentally enough, my family and I went through one of those one night at the exact same spot. It took us an hour and a half to get through the checkpoint. With multiple exhausted kids sitting in the minivan begging to get home. Pretty big burden.
None of this, of course, says that either checkpoint or immigration stops should be permissible or impermissible. Both topics entail an extensive debate. I was just reminded as I read this case of the reality that random, suspicionless stops are routinely approved in some settings. So thought I'd share.