Arizona’s new legislation empowering state and local police to enforce federal immigration law is causing spasms of hysteria on the religious left. So over-the-top is so much of the criticism, in fact, that it’s doubtful that most of the critics have even read the bill they are decrying. Some samples:

Michael Kinnimon of the National Council of Churches:

In addition to the basic unjustness of the law, the fact that police now have vaguely defined but broad powers to stop anyone on suspicion of being an undocumented immigrants creates an unacceptable potential for wide-spread police harassment and creates a danger for citizens as well as non-citizens

Church World Service Executive Director John. L. McCullough:

We are deeply concerned about the enactment of SB 1070 as it goes beyond anti-immigrant sentiments and supports racial profiling. This legislation feels reactionary and hateful. It is a clear representation of the politics of division and exclusion. Gov. Brewer has ignored the advice of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and the Mesa Fraternal of Police to veto the bill. By this action, she has actively institutionalized racial profiling and will make Arizona less safe.

United Methodist missionary James Perdue Burke:

It is the belief of most groups working in opposition to SB1070 that this bill will increase fear throughout Arizona, moving seriously in the direction of becoming a police state.

Sojourners editor Jim Wallis:

Senate Bill 1070 would require law enforcement officials in the state of Arizona to investigate someone’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be undocumented. I wonder who that would be, and if anybody who doesn’t have brown skin will be investigated. Those without identification papers, even if they are legal, are subject to arrest; so don’t forget your wallet on your way to work if you are Hispanic in Arizona.

Christian Ramirez, national coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee’s immigrants’ rights programs:

I am discouraged that Gov. Brewer has ignored the voices of community, religious, business and law enforcement leaders and signed this bill that will further paralyze communities with fear. Now in Arizona, to be ‘brown’ is to be suspected of committing a crime.”

Episcopal bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona:

[T]oday is a sad day in the struggle to see all God’s people treated in a humane and compassionate manner (…) With the Governor’s signing of SB 1070, it seems that for now the advocates of fear and hatred have won over those of charity and love. Arizona claims to be a Golden Rule State. We have not lived up to that claim.

“Reactionary.” “Police state.” “Hatred.” I’m guessing the people quoted above think this law is bad. There’s just one problem. The law they are objecting to exists only in their own minds.

The law that was actually passed does not authorize police to engage in mass arrests of Hispanics, nor does it permit them to stop anyone just because of the color of their skin. Instead, as Byron York of the Washington Examiner indicates, a document check can only take place in the context of a legitimate investigation of another possible legal violation:

Critics have focused on the term “reasonable suspicion” to suggest that the law would give police the power to pick anyone out of a crowd for any reason and force them to prove they are in the U.S. legally. Some foresee mass civil rights violations targeting Hispanics.

What fewer people have noticed is the phrase “lawful contact,” which defines what must be going on before police even think about checking immigration status. “That means the officer is already engaged in some detention of an individual because he’s violated some other law,” says Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri Kansas City Law School professor who helped draft the measure. “The most likely context where this law would come into play is a traffic stop.”

As for the notion that there’s something odious in police asking a person to produce proof of citizenship, York notes that if you’ve got a valid driver’s license, you’re good: “The law clearly says that if someone produces a valid Arizona driver’s license, or other state-issued identification, they are presumed to be here legally. There’s no reasonable suspicion.”

Last Friday evening, while I was attending presbytery, I was stopped by a New York state trooper. The first thing the officer did, upon seeing my non-Hispanic coloration, was ask for my driver’s license. He also asked what my business in Middletown, New York was and where I was going. Turns out I had a burned out brake light, which he asked me to get fixed immediately. He didn’t even give me a ticket. But you can bet that he ran my license to see if I had any outstanding warrants while I waited, which is perfectly proper police procedure. If he had found that there were any, he would certainly have arrested me. In Arizona, if a person is found in the course of a similar stop to be in the country illegally, they will be liable to arrest, just as I would have been. That’s the kind of situation that has the religious left raising the specter of totalitarianism.

The fact is that anyone who lives, works, shops, and drives in America is asked for identification (those dreaded “papers”) every day. When you check into a hotel, apply for a job, make a purchase with a credit card, rent a car–a thousand different circumstances require us to produce ID, and in many instances prove we are a citizen (and the requirement that legal resident aliens have ID on them whenever they go out in public, and produce whenever asked to by law enforcement, has been federal law for half a century). What this law does is not impose some kind of fascist regime on Arizona. Rather, it gives state and local police the authority to do what the federal government should be doing, but refuses to do–enforce American immigration law.

Will this law mostly effect Hispanics? Of course–they don’t get too many illegal Hungarian border crossers in the Sonoma Desert. Is some of the support for this bill motivated by racist attitudes toward Hispanics? I’m sure some of it is (though it also has significant support from Latino citizens and legal immigrants in the state). Does that mean that Arizona is the latest iteration of Nazi Germany? Only in the fervid imaginations of the religious left and its political allies.