Published June 25, 2012
Today, the US Supreme Court took a significant step in validating our current immigration enforcement scheme by striking down the bulk of Arizona’s discriminatory immigration law, SB1070. Most of the provisions were found to be preempted by federal law, but ironically, the part that requires police to verify immigration status when stopping, arresting, or detaining someone remains in place—for now. Perhaps just long enough to violate someone’s civil rights.
Requiring state and local law enforcement to investigate immigration status not only puts unnecessary fiscal pressure on state and local law enforcement, it will also inevitably lead to racial profiling.
SB1070 does not indicate how an officer could possibly determine an individual’s immigration status just by appearance: a person’s immigration status isn’t something you can tell by looking at someone’s shoes or how they are dressed. The provision is an open invitation for racial profiling, and for Americans’ and legal immigrants’ rights to be violated.
The ruling is, however, on balance encouraging, not only because the court left the door wide open to concrete challenges to the racial profiling provision in the future, but because it dismissed out of hand state attempts to usurp federal immigration enforcement powers.
Unfortunately, by allowing the “Papers Please” section to remain, the court effectively condoned state interference in immigration issues. Across the country, this growing patchwork of state laws is creating more confusion in an already chaotic immigration system and burdening communities with legal costs as these discriminatory laws are challenged in court. Even law enforcement types don’t want these kinds of provisions—they just make their job harder.
The obvious solution to our broken immigration laws remains: move forward—past politics and prejudice—and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
If Congress took concrete action and maintained an effective federal immigration system, then this sort of counterproductive state action would cease, leaving our communities safer and our economy stronger.
In the meantime, the Department of Justice will need to redouble its efforts to ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected against these kinds of racial profiling laws.
Laura Lichter is president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraLichter. The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.