Not long ago the country's Latino community was abuzz with the news that the Obama administration would protect our DREAM students from deportation. A week later the euphoria is being tested by the Supreme Court's decision in the anti-immigrant case Arizona v. U.S. which demurred on the legality of the state's "show me your papers" provision but clearly noted that Arizona overstepped its authority on every other aspect of SB 1070. Not a complete victory, but not a total loss either.
At issue in Arizona v. U.S. was a narrow set of claims. The case addresses the constitutional concepts of preemption and the Supremacy Clause. In short, since the Constitution grants exclusive control over immigration and naturalization to Congress, all States are preempted from enacting laws that interfere with the federal role in this important area. Only four provisions from the law, SB 1070, were on appeal: Section 2(B),the "show me your papers" provision, authorizes local law enforcement to determine the immigration status of any person lawfully stopped on "reasonable suspicion" that they're in Arizona illegally; Section 3 criminalized the federal civil violation of being present in the country without registration documents; Section 5(C) criminalized any person without federal work authorization from seeking work or working in Arizona; and Section 6 authorizes local law enforcement to arrest without a warrant any person they have probable cause to believe committed an offense punishable by deportation.
In a 5 to 3 decision Justice Kennedy exalted the importance of speaking about immigration from the perspective of "one national sovereign, not the 50 separate states." The court struck down 3 portions of Arizona's encroaching law: criminalizing the failure to register; authorizing local police to arrest without a warrant; and criminalizing those unauthorized immigrants from soliciting or working in the state. The importance of rejecting this last provision, Section 5 (c), cannot be gainsaid: Day laborers throughout the country have been harassed and criminally profiled for the simple act of looking for work. LatinoJustice has represented many of them in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and now in Alabama and South Carolina. Only the federal government can strike a careful balance between the competing needs of the country when it comes to the employment undocumented workers. This is a major victory for Latino communities.
But there is still one to go. The Court refused to categorically reject the "show me your papers" provision of SB 1070 by deferring until the courts below can learn if it would be implemented in a way that would interfere with federal immigration policy. In short, they demurred. And in doing so they have yet to see the consequences of a state law that could easily feed the insatiable appetite of law enforcement to racially profile Latino communities. As President Obama noted after reading the opinion: "No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like." We couldn't agree more. Luckily, the Supreme Court left the door open to the next challenge to Section 2 (B). So its pronouncement is not the final word on the wisdom or constitutionality of Section 2 (B). And in this regard LatinoJustice PRLDEF will be vigilantly monitoring all the states we work in to ensure that law enforcement does not engage in racial profiling against Latinos. We applaud Attorney General Holder's promise to step up civil rights enforcement in any state that abuses Latino rights based on this decision. It is what we expect and demand from this administration.
The rash of anti-immigrant, read: anti-Latino, state laws are not going away with this important decision from the Supreme Court - although they have been dealt a serious blow. These laws promote racial profiling, deny equal justice and run counter to our economic interests at a time when our economic recovery is fragile. Many states are turning towards a commonsense approach to these legislative proposals once they appreciate the negative impact that the loss of immigrant labor has on local economies. Professional law enforcement associations know full well that their departments are not equipped to learn the intricacies of immigration law and that by focusing on these new tasks that divert law enforcement resources, public safety could be imperiled.
Arizona's "show me your papers" provision represents the wrong approach to the challenges America faces at present. It diverts us from our real priorities and sends a message that targeting Latino residents, immigrants and citizens is fair game. LatinoJustice PRLDEF stands ready to join our resources to combat the worse aspects of these anti-Latino laws.
Three down, one to go. This will not be the last word on this issue.