"If you read the Arizona (immigration) law, what it says is if you are stopped for violating the law and they have a suspicion that you're illegal, they can ask you if you're legal."

Rick Scott on Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 in a CBS4 interview

Rick Scott says Arizona law allows police to ask about immigration status

Arizona's polarizing immigration law has become a divisive issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary, with Rick Scott promising to bring the hard-line legislation to Florida if elected.

Scott, a political newcomer from Naples who once oversaw the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, released a television ad last month that heralded his hard-line stance on illegal immigration and scolded his rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, for his opposition to bringing a similar law to Florida.

Critics of the law -- which was signed in its final version by Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, on April 30, 2010 -- bristled over Scott's portrayal of what he called a "common-sense" law enforcement approach. The law makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime and requires law enforcement officials to investigate the immigration status of suspicious persons or risk being sued.

In a recent television interview with a South Florida CBS affiliate, Scott defended his position that the legislation doesn't allow law enforcement officers to stop immigrants based on skin color.

"No one believes in racial profiling. I clearly don't believe in racial profiling," Scott said.

"But the Arizona law permits it," interjected CBS4 reporter Gary Nelson

"Absolutely not," Scott countered. "It says you cannot do that. If you read the Arizona law, what it says is if you are stopped for violating the law and they have a suspicion that you're illegal, they can ask you if you're legal. That's what it says."

PolitiFact has already taken a look at the racial profiling aspect of the law. For this item, we'll analyze whether Scott's summary of the law is accurate and complete.

The key part of the law reads, "For any lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of this state or a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency of a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town in this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person 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, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation."

We began by looking at whether the wording of the law -- "for any lawful stop, detention or arrest" -- is equivalent to Scott's formulation, "stopped for violating the law."

Not exactly, say the legal experts we consulted, such as Michael M. Hethmon, director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which helped write the Arizona law.

Arizona's law allows people to be questioned if they are lawfully stopped or questioned for any reason, whether it's a traffic stop, or a municipal violation like letting your grass grow too tall in a community that requires frequent mowing. And suspects only need be involved in a possible or potential violation, Hethmon said.

Karl Manheim, a law professor at Loyola Law School, agreed, saying that Scott's statement doesn't accurately convey the authority law enforcement officers have under the law.

"If you are lawfully stopped for any reason, they can demand immigration status," he said. He said he doesn't consider Scott's formulation to be false, but rather "incomplete."

There's a second discrepancy between the law and Scott's explanation. Scott said law enforcement officials "can ask you if you're legal" -- but the law uses the word, "shall," which means it isn't really an option, according to our experts.

The law states that a person can prove their immigration status by flashing valid identification, such as an Arizona driver license or identification card. It continues, "Any person who is arrested shall have the person's immigration status determined before the person is released."

"It is not that 'they can ask,'" said Jack Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona. "It is that they 'shall' make an investigation if practicable when there is reasonable suspicion. It is a requirement, not an authorization."

Scott is not alone -- many political leaders have stumbled over the often-convoluted layers of the Arizona immigration law. And with judicial challenges already underway, it's too soon to say for sure how the law will be carried out in practice. Ultimately, Scott's statement falls short on two counts -- on failing to communicate the full range of violations that could trigger a police stop, and on suggesting that the law gives wider discretion to officers on when it should be enforced. So we find Scott's statement Half True.