Supreme Court Arizona Immigration Ruling: Majority of SB 1070 Struck Down By SCOTUS


UPDATE: On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government on 3 out of the 4 major issues, most notably declaring that the Arizona immigration law SB 1070 pre-empted (trumped) federal law. The court rejected the parts of the law that: 1) Make it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to possess their federal registration cards; 2) Make it a crime for illegal immigration to work, apply for work or solicit work; 3) Allow state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant when probably cause exists that they committed “any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”

The only issue that the Court did not decide was the provision which requires officers to check the immigration status of individuals subsequent to a lawful arrest. This was left to the state courts to interpret further. There is a chance that if the state courts interpret the "status check" provision too broadly, that it will make its way back to SCOTUS as early as next term. The Court suggested that the interpretation would have to be narrow to survive.

The United States Supreme Court is set to hand down a decision on Arizona’s S.B. 1070 illegal immigration law this week that could have broad implications for millions of Latinos across the country and affect the way Americans handle future immigration reform.

After hearing oral arguments in April, the justices are set to hand down a decision on whether provisions of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, simply referred to as Arizona S.B. 1070, conflict with federal immigration law. At issue is whether states can enforce laws against unauthorized immigrants or whether this power rests solely with the federal government. This is what the federal government argued in a July 2010 legal challenge that ended in a Arizona federal judge issuing a temporary block on four of the law’s most controversial provisions.

The most disputed provision requires Arizona police to check the immigration status of any person they suspect is “unlawfully present in the U.S.” when they make a lawful stop. That is to say that if someone is stopped for a seatbelt violation, the police can ask for proof of citizenship if they have reason to suspect that person is not a citizen.

During arguments before the high court in April, Chief Justice John Roberts and several liberal justices hinted that they would uphold the “stop and question” portion of S.B. 1070 but would block other provisions like one that would make it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant.

If this controversial provision is allowed to stand it will change the way Latinos are viewed and interacted with in this country. Unauthorized immigrants look like everyone else and under the Arizona law any person of color or anyone with an accent can be asked to prove their status and can be detained until they prove citizenship, whether they are a citizen or an immigrant. The “stop and question” portion of this law not only enables racial profiling, it requires racial profiling. S.B. 1070 compels police to ask for papers from anyone they have a reasonable suspicion of being without legal status.

This provision will lead to incidents like one that occurred in May 2010, only a month after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070 into law, where a Puerto Rican man was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and nearly deported to Mexico even though he was a U.S. citizen. This provision has similar implications to that of New York City’s stop and frisk" program where the vast majority of people stopped by the NYPD have been  Latino or African-American.

A decision in favor of the Arizona law could clear the way for other states to take a larger role in immigration enforcement. Five states already have laws modeled from S.B. 1070, three of which have been sued by the government. If S.B. 1070 is upheld we could see more states throw their hats into the ring with laws that make life difficult for undocumented immigrants in hopes that they will practice self-deportation.

These laws, however, do not cause self-deportation. Undocumented immigrants will either leave the state for one with friendlier immigration laws or they will go deeper underground. S.B. 1070 and laws modeled after it only cause more tension between those of different races and nationalities. They create an even more apparent “us vs. them” culture and can cause unneeded aggravation for some, including U.S. citizens. Americans do not need a law like S.B. 1070 to be upheld. Americans do not need 50 different state laws on immigration. Americans need Congress to step up and enact a national immigration policy.