On Nov. 9 two Palm Coast residents were pulled over by a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy for a wrongful right turn. John Hardison was at the wheel. His wife Inna was in the passenger seat. The deputy asked for John’s paperwork—license, insurance, registration—and that part of the traffic stop was routine enough. But when a back-up deputy arrived, that deputy came over to Inna’s side of the car and asked for her papers. To repeat: She was in the passenger seat. Drivers must have their driver’s license, but otherwise no one is required to carry an ID in the United States, or present it to law enforcement. Startled, Inna asked the deputy: “May I ask you why?” His reply: “Because I asked you nicely.”
Not looking for an argument, she complied, presenting her Green Card, which the deputy then ran through his computer and returned without issues. The Hardisons went on their way.
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- Inna Hardison’s Moscow Arrest for Lack of Papers
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Two days later Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming was asked about that stop during a town hall meeting. “In all the years I’ve been in law enforcement, that’s a normal procedure to ask for ID,” Fleming said. “When you have probable cause on something, whether it be a seat belt, whether it be a neighborhood that they were in that’s a high-crime area where we’re profiling cars going in and out of there, we’re looking at people going into neighborhoods during the day, we’re in an area that’s getting hit by burglaries. Evenings. There’s a whole gambit of things that you can look at.”
But it was just before noon, at the intersection of Belle Terre Parkway and State Road 100, one of the busiest intersections in the city. Inna Hardison’s only “probable cause” was her accent when she spoke during the initial encounter with the first deputy: she is originally Russian. Remarkably, the sheriff and one of his spokesmen—Kevin Byrne—insisted that there was nothing unusual about asking individuals, whether pedestrians or non-drivers, for their ID in a variety of circumstances. People almost always comply, neither knowing that there is no requirement that they produce identification or fearing to question a law enforcement officer.
Yet routinely asking people for their ID—let alone using the ID checks to verify, say, an individual’s immigration status, which local law enforcement is not responsible for—raises serious questions of balance between police powers and individual rights. That balance, and those rights, are being increasingly blurred as local authorities broaden the scope of their routine police powers and one state—Arizona—has passed a law making it legal for local law enforcement to act as immigration agents. That law triggered widespread condemnation, boycotts of Arizona products and tourism, and lawsuits. It was mostly struck down in July by Susan Bolton, a federal judge in the 9th circuit. Among the provisions declared unconstitutional was one that called on law enforcement to verify individuals’ identity.
Florida may now go where Arizona attempted to go—granting sheriff’s deputies and local city police officers the power to demand identification of any individual vaguely suspected of being an undocumented immigrant to verify immigration status. Any immigrant caught without showing proof of legal residency would face a fine of $100 and a misdemeanor charge. In other words, tourists and permanent residents, including millions who carry Green Cards (like Inna Hardison) would be fined and charged with a misdemeanor if they did not carry their papers at all times. The bill was filed by Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican and a member of the new Florida Senate leadership.
The proposed law would give wide powers to local law enforcement during traffic stops. It states, in part, that if, during any traffic stop or arrest or detention by any local or state law enforcement personnel, “reasonable suspicion exists that the person stopped, detained, or arrested is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person” by requiring proof of legal residency or visiting status. Lacking that, the individual may be detained. Should the immigration status prove illegal, the individual may be transferred to a federal immigration detention facility.
Bennett, repeating the same justifications voiced by supporters of the Arizona law, says he’s merely targeting the “criminal element” in undocumented immigration. He doesn’t see a difference between asking a driver for a driver’s license or an immigrant for a Green Card.
Critics aren’t convinced. “It’s not the job of a state to enforce immigration laws,” Sally Schmidt, executive director of the Equal Justice Center in Fort Myers, told Florida Capital News. She said the law would invite discrimination and lead to confusion. Many immigrants are in the country legally but still waiting for proper documentation, she said. Detaining them for not having the right paperwork would violate their civil rights. “People are in such different states of immigration status,” she said. “These are people who are paying taxes and performing valuable work.”
Before it was struck down, Arizona’s law had to clear the desk of a Democratic governor who had reservations about its strong-arming provisions. Gov.-elect Rick Scott had no such reservations. He is fully supportive of the proposed Arizona-style law in Florida.
Inna Hardison says the development in Florida was “a matter of time.” She has been jailed once before for not carrying her papers. It was 20 years ago. It happened in Moscow.