Does Arizona have a friend in the Supreme Court?

Posted: April 27, 2012

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday abo**ut Arizona’s attempt to purge itself of all undocumented immigrants — and even those who “look” illegal — and the court’s questions suggest that it may support the controversial law that the Grand Canyon State adopted in 2010.

Arizona’s SB 1070 — the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”— relies on state and local law enforcement to get rid of illegal immigrants. The most controversial provisions require police and other law-enforcement officials to ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop, authorizes local police to make an arrest without a warrant of any person they believe is removable from the United States, makes it a misdemeanor to fail to carry proper immigration documents and makes it a crime for undocumented immigrants to look for work.

Trying to accomplish “attrition through enforcement,” the law basically grants carte blanche to local police to engage in racial profiling: The police can stop someone if he or she “looks illegal,” and subject anyone to a demand for documents proving he is legal. Without such documents, the cops can hold people while their status is checked and arrest them if they can’t determine legality. Bottom line: If you want to take a stroll in Arizona someday, make sure you don’t look Hispanic, and bring your birth certificate or passport. If you don’t have your papers, be prepared to be held for at least an hour.

Fortunately, a federal court enjoined these parts of the law almost immediately, and a U.S. Court of Appeals subsequently upheld this injunction. Now, the Supreme Court is hearing the case. The United State government argues that the Arizona law exceeds the federal government’s right to regulate immigration. This is a critical argument because if the Arizona law is allowed to stand, it will open the door to other states, some of whom have used the Arizona law as a model, to create a patchwork of confusing and sometimes conflicting immigration laws.

Pennsylvania will surely be waiting for the court’s ruling. It has a number of tough immigration bills pending and filed a brief in support of Arizona. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, a sponsor of one of the bills, told the Inquirer: “Absent federal action to protect Americans from the foreign nationals who invade our country, the only line of defense is at the state level. Either the Supreme Court will stand with the states — or handcuff them.”

It’s disheartening to consider that the Supreme Court would find for Arizona — though, given the conservative bent of the court, not surprising. But there is a ray of hope: Even if the court supports strengthening the police state and terrifying citizens, there will probably be quick and frequent challenges — this is unlikely to be a ruling that stands for a generation or longer. Meanwhile, while the federal government has the authority to create and enforce immigration policy, it has done a poor job of creating a coherent national policy, opening the door to laws like Arizona’s.

This case should be the wakeup call that we need, to demand a thoughtful and considered solution to the current broken immigration system. n

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