The Supreme Court’s hearing on the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070, more colloquially known as the “Show Me Your Papers” law, highlights the critical dilemma facing the U.S. government: reform immigration law or concede that right to the states. Without a doubt, if SB 1070 is deemed to be constitutional, it will heighten racial and cultural tensions in America, but these tensions could become the driving force that will eventually transform the national immigration debate from rhetoric to direct action.
First, should the Supreme Court rule in favor of Arizona, this would present negative implications for federal-state legislative relations. Other states considering draconian immigration laws will follow suit, creating a confusing patchwork of laws that fail to tackle the immigration question from a balanced perspective. A political landscape such as this would push the federal government to design a national comprehensive immigration reform.
Second, central to SB 1070 is the “enforcement through attrition” strategy, through which laws are designed to make life in the U.S. for illegal immigrants so difficult that self-deportation becomes the most attractive decision. If the hard-line anti-immigration lobby succeeds in exporting this approach to other states, it risks reducing a significant portion of the informal labor sector in the country. The adverse effects that stem from this would definitely harm the already suffering economy. This would force the federal government’s hand toward reform.
Third, if deemed constitutional, the racial profiling and discriminatory aspect of the law presents open holes for violations of equal protection and due process protections. A proliferation of such civil cases on the national level would indeed compel the federal government to take action. Consider Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and how that case served as a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement.
The final ruling on the case is expected by late June, and regardless of the decision reached, SB 1070 and extreme laws like it shed light on the incompetence of the current immigration regime.
Additionally, it illustrates the deterioration of the political climate in the United States, whereby laws that exclude, discriminate, and separate families are preferred over those like the DREAM Act, which would integrate immigrants and treat them as valued contributing members of our society.