Los Angeles area elected officials and immigrant rights groups on Tuesday denounced the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a provision in an Arizona law they say allows racial profiling. SB 1070, enacted in 2010, made it a misdemeanor to be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona and spawned copycat laws in other states.
Critics say SB1070 is one of the “ugliest anti-immigrant laws” in the country and that it encourages racial profiling and anti-immigrant sentiment. The Obama Administration, seeking to overturn the controversial law, told the Supreme Court that immigration enforcement and policy is a federal responsibility and states, like Arizona, cannot usurp that responsibility by writing their own immigration laws.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stated, “the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
In a 5 to 3 vote, the Court allowed Provision 2(B) to stand, while striking down Provisions 3, 5, and 6.
Immigrant rights groups, however, say the Supreme Court has now upheld the so-called “show me your papers” provision that will allow police officers to stop people on the sole basis of suspecting they are in the country illegally. While the Court did say that a person cannot be stopped solely on the suspicion that they are in the country illegally, and that there must be another valid legal reason for detaining the person in the first place, the circumstances under which a person can be stopped are so broad and can be as minor as jaywalking or littering, the clarification is essentially meaningless.
Section 2(B) requires state and local police to attempt to determine the immigration status of any person lawfully stopped, detained, or arrested if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is unlawfully present, according to the National Council of La Raza, (NCLR).
“We remain deeply troubled, though, that the Supreme Court allowed the heart of the problem in SB 1070—legitimizing racial profiling—to stand, and failed to decisively remove the bull’s eye from the backs of Arizona’s Latinos, leaving it to future lawsuits to address. We fear this part of the decision will open the floodgates to the harassment, abuse, and intimidation of our community in what is already the most hostile place for Hispanics in the country, ” said NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía, in a written statement.
Locally, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, CHIRLA, said in a statement: “The High Court’s ruling to invalidate Provisions 3, 5, and 6 but allow Provision 2(B) to go forward for now makes it possible for Arizona to codify racial profiling by allowing the ‘show me your papers’ provision to be implemented.”
“Thousands upon thousands of people will fall prey to fishing expeditions by anti-immigrant forces led by (Maricopa County) Sheriff Joe Arpaio and inflict suffering, prejudice, and even exile on people based on the color of skin, language, dress code, or ethnicity even if a person was born in the United States.”
The overturning of three of the provisions, however, blocks Arizona from making it a crime for immigrants to be undocumented, to work or seek work, and allowing police to arrest people without warrants if they suspect they have committed a crime that makes them deportable.
The Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Federal Government has the sole responsibility to enforce immigration.
In a written statement, Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-32), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said the Supreme Court has reiterated that the Federal Government has “broad” and “irrefutable power” over immigration under the Constitution. Chu applauded the provisions struck down, but said so-called “show me your papers” provision will “harm us as a nation by promoting racial profiling.”
“I remain concerned about the precedent that this sets for our nation – a nation of immigrants – as we see race-based law enforcement codified into state law. Asian Pacific Americans are the fastest growing demographic in Arizona and will be profoundly impacted by this provision. Lawsuits challenging the provision on racial profiling grounds are moving through the courts and I am hopeful that this discriminatory provision will ultimately be invalidated. The Supreme Court’s decision is yet another reminder that Congress must act immediately to ensure our nation has a clear and robust federal immigration policy that works for families, employers and immigrants and citizens alike,” Chu wrote.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also issued a statement saying he was “heartened” that the Supreme Court upheld “the bedrock constitutional principle that the federal government alone has the power to regulate immigration” and that the Obama Administration and Department of Justice were right to challenge this law.
However, he called the ruling “only a partial victory” because the Supreme Court has allowed the implementation of the most harmful provision of the law.
“By requiring police officers to demand documents of anyone they suspect of being in the country without authorization, Arizona risks creating a culture of fear and suspicion. Implementation of the law will undermine the trust between the police and the public, driving a wedge between police officers and the community they serve. The ‘papers please’ provision opens the door for racial profiling, and I believe it will be impossible to implement this law without discrimination. This will just invite further litigation,” Villaraigosa said.
He also called for a comprehensive immigration reform and called on Congress to pass the DREAM ACT.
President Obama said the ruling shows that the need for Congress to quickly take up immigration reform legislation.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, hailed the court’s ruling as “balanced and positive,” saying it clarified that state and local law enforcement can assist the federal government in enforcing immigration law. “This is a significant victory for those on a state level who are trying to gain control of the massive flow of illegal immigrants into our country,” Rohrabacher said. “It is clear the problem will never be solved without cooperation from the very top of the federal government and the very bottom of local jurisdictions. The Supreme Court decided that cooperation is constitutionally proper.”
He said the ruling “highlights the long-overdue necessity for statutory change to the status quo of lax immigration enforcement, half-hearted border security measures and the elimination of the economic incentives and public benefits that encourage the massive flow of illegal immigration into this country.”
Republican Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of Santa Clarita echoed that sentiment, saying the ruling “highlights the need for serious solutions to our nation’s overall immigration policy, as well as the severe lack of leadership we have seen from the president.”
CHIRLA, called the ruling “disgraceful” and urged communities to organize against the institutionalization of racial profiling by
the Supreme Court.
CHIRLA Executive Director Angelica Salas in a written statement said the ruling “marks a dark day for justice in the history” of the country.
“The history of our country is riddled with injustices made possible through an extreme minority’s justification of discriminatory, divisive, and callous decrees. The codification of segregation, exclusion from voting, Trail of Tears, encampment of ethnic minorities, and exile of whole class of workers, to give but a few examples, was made federal statute because the courts allowed it without remorse,” she said.
Salas noted the irony that on the same week the US Congress apologized for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a racist law against Chinese immigrants, the highest US court has taken a shameful swerve “to the edge of a similar abyss.”
Salas called on the immigrant community and its allies to take a stand and “to change history.”
“We are on the right side of history and winning respect, dignity, and equal treatment under the law is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’”, she said.
Salas said more lawsuits will follow because “we are certain racial profiling is unconstitutional.”
Moving forward, Salas said states should erect firewall laws to racial profiling, like the TRUST Act (AB1081) in California. Among her suggestions to the White House, Salas said civil rights monitors should be sent to states that “legalize discrimination,” and the federal government should “aggressively” enforce civil rights laws across the country.
Information from City News Services used in this report.