The Supreme Court on Monday delivered a split decision on Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law SB 1070, striking down most parts of the law on the grounds that Arizona overstepped into federal government’s role in setting the nation’s immigration policy. But what is quite possibly the most disturbing provision of the law has remained intact. What critics have dubbed the “show me your papers” provision not only allows, but requires that Arizona law enforcement officials determine the immigration status of any person that has been stopped or arrested if there is reasonable suspicion the individual might be in the country illegally. Even more disturbing was Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s victory statementthat “the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented.”
It doesn’t take legal experts to understand that a law such as SB 1070 is ripe for civil rights abuses. Last May, an investigation led Justice Department to sue Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for an alleged long standing practice of racially profiling Latinos. Arpaio and approximately 900 of his deputies have been accused of profiling through illegally stopping, detaining, and arresting Latinos. In an environment like this it is hard to believe that SB 1070 would not play a role in the further targeting of Latinos.
Federal changes: motivated by need for change or votes?
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security rescinded program 287 (g), which allowed federal law officials to deputize local law officials to make immigration-based arrests. This means that even if local law enforcement stops someone who is undocumented, the official will be unable to transfer the person over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation without an ICE official. ICE has also said that they won’t be making arrests for anyone not charged with a felony or that doesn’t meet specific criminal criteria. It may sound like a good thing, but it reveals the extent to which our immigration system is broken. When something as innocuous as using a made up Social Security Number is a felony, does it really matter that program 287 (g) was pulled back? With programs like Secure Communities, a network between federal and local law enforcement that operates in the same essential manner at 287(g), still in full effect, is it hard to believe this isn’t a ploy by the Obama administration to gain political capital within the Latino community.
Room for civil rights challenges
On a brighter side, the court in its ruling on SB 1070 cited INS v. Lopez Mendoza, stating, “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the United States.” This makes make me wonder: are undocumented Americans now “legal?” As much as I would like to think that were the case, I do believe this line refers to another common misconception that undocumented immigrants are criminals. I believe the court was reaffirming that undocumented immigration is considered a civil offense not a criminal one. Just as you wouldn’t call a traffic light violator a criminal, you shouldn’t call undocumented immigrants criminals either.
I have one frustration with immigrants’ rights groups who claim the Supreme Court upheld racial profiling. The Supreme Court did not uphold racial profiling. The Obama administration didn’t challenge SB 1070 on civil rights grounds; therefore, the court didn’t hear the case on those grounds. The court only ruled on whether the state of Arizona had overstepped its bounds in legislating immigration policy, since it is a domain of the federal government. And this opens the door to further legal challenges to the law on the grounds of civil rights abuses. After all, the court did state in the majority opinion that they are prepared to hear these challenges based how the law is implemented. Let’s not waste our time arguing about whether or not the Supreme Court of upheld racial profiling. Let’s organize, resist and challenge!