On June 25, 2012 the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling of Senate Bill 1070, choosing to uphold one significant section of the law Arizona passed two years ago to create new penalties against undocumented persons in that state. Shortly after SB 1070 was passed, the federal government sued to block most of the features of the bill, claiming that the federal government’s role in regulating immigration pre-empts state actions such as those contained in SB 1070.
The section of the law that the Supreme Court upheld permits police in Arizona to check the immigration status of anyone the officer has “reasonable suspicion” to believe is an undocumented person. The federal government argued successfully in the district and appellate courts that this could lead to racial profiling against Latinos and other people of color. The Supreme Court rejected that contention, stating that there needed to be proof of such profiling before they could declare the provision constitutionally invalid.
On the other hand, the Court’s rulings prohibit Arizona from penalizing undocumented persons who hold or apply for jobs in that state; prevent police from arresting a person without a warrant if they believe they are a deportable immigrant; and forbid the state from making it a crime to fail to carry federal registration papers.
So perhaps those of us who favor a just and equitable reform to our immigration laws could celebrate the fact that three of the four rulings favored immigrants’ rights. Unfortunately, the ruling that upholds a section of SB 1070 is a huge defeat for immigrants and for all people of color. Allowing police to check immigration status of any person they contact is the precursor to the kind of racial profiling endured by African Americans for decade after decade. And the stakes are incredibly high since it is possible to have a scenario in which someone is driving or walking “suspiciously” and in short order is detained for deportation proceedings.
That is why the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs took the rare action of issuing a declaration opposing SB 1070 shortly after it was signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. AFOP believes that this provision that the court upheld today will inevitably lead not only to racial profiling, but will further empower rogue law enforcement officials such as Maricopa (Phoenix) County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. His actions toward immigrants and Latinos in general have been so odious that the federal government has sued him for unlawfully depriving persons of their civil rights.
I just returned from a five day convention of the Unitarian Universalist Association in Phoenix. As part of the experience a large group of people conducted a vigil at the infamous tent city where Sheriff Arpaio holds prisoners including large numbers of undocumented immigrants in unhealthy and humiliating circumstances. The Supreme Court’s ruling of June 25, 2012 will only embolden him and others who believe they have the right to determine who has the status to walk the streets freely.
This ruling came on the heels of President Obama’s order granting a two year reprieve to the DREAMers. My hope is that this ruling will spur those who believe that immigrants are people as valued as everyone else to action–action in favor of creating a humane and just immigration reform program. It is time to finish the work that he started with that order and establish policies that grant a path to citizenship for the DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants who have committed no crime.
To those who can’t understand how we can do this when every undocumented immigrant has violated the law, we need to understand that not all of our laws reflect the moral imperatives that make us the special people we as Americans claim to be. Our complex and convoluted immigration laws fit the bill as being lawful, but not moral. This court ruling emphasizes that it is time to change that equation and bring our laws in line with our values.