On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear challenges to SB 1070, the notoriously stringent Arizona anti-illegal immigration legislation. SB 1070 mandates police officers to perform stops or arrests to check immigration status on the mere suspicion of illegal status and requires immigrants to possess documents at all times. Naturally, many have been outraged by the law, which makes it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to live with the basic measure of security, liberty, and respect that all people deserve.
But while SB 1070 offers an obvious focus for those who care about immigrant rights, it diverts attention from the real problem: the lack of a concrete path to citizenship. Even without a law that aggressively pits police against them, undocumented immigrants in parts of the country other than Arizona still face daily uncertainty and fear. The extreme Arizona law provoked strong backlash; but the threat of deportation looms over undocumented immigrants in any state.
The unjust citizenship laws themselves are worse than the strict enforcement of the unjust laws. In America, illegal immigrants live in a kind of nether-state, subject to potential deportation almost at random, making it theoretically possible to live with the trappings of a normal life -- the house, the job -- but with few of the rights necessary to practically do so. Illegal immigrants are unable to get financial aid to colleges, so the most motivated students face an uphill battle trying to do what they've been told to do: improve their station through higher education. It is the sort of heartbreaking push-pull that characterizes this country's immigration policies.
At issue in this week's Arizona vs. The United States is whether the state government has any jurisdiction over immigration policy. At issue in public life continues to be the ignored and procrastinated upon question of real reform. Instead of demanding extra protection against deportation in Arizona, those who care about immigrants should take the opportunity to demand the solid foundation of rights and benefits that come with citizenship.
Election season, when Hispanic voters wield much-discussed demographic power and party bases can make demands, is exactly the moment to bring up the issue yet again -- which is why four years ago was the last time we had forward instead of backwards momentum with a naturalization bill. This is a conversation that has happened, and likely will happen, again and again in public life.
Instead of letting it get hijacked by SB 1070, proponents of immigrant rights must keep our attention on the ultimate goal: a United States that protects instead of preying on the people within its borders.