By Sheila Starkey Hahn
The recent Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. United States has brought the
immigration debate back to center stage. The Court struck down three provisions
of the Arizona law but upheld Section 2(b), arguably the most controversial. This
section requires that when a police officer stops, detains or arrests someone for a
valid reason, then develops "reasonable suspicion" that the person is unlawfully
present in the United States, the officer must make a reasonable attempt to
determine the person's immigration status.
Undoubtedly, the court's decision will embolden other states to introduce similar
legislation. In fact, this battle has already played out in Prince William County,
Virginia, where a similar "show me your papers" law resulted in chaos and forced
the county to hastily reverse its position. Documentarians Annabel Park and Eric
Byler captured this drama in their film, 9500 Liberty, a case study that is indicative
of what is still to come in Arizona and elsewhere.
The law at issue in 9500 Liberty is a 2007 resolution that mandated police officers
check the immigration status of anyone they had probable cause to believe was
undocumented. The law was drafted by the Federation for American Immigration
Reform (FAIR), a national anti-immigrant group that targets communities that have
experienced an influx of Latino immigrants and are vulnerable to fear and racial
In this election season, 9500 Liberty is revelatory. Kris Kobach, the Secretary
of State of Kansas, is Mitt Romney's "informal" immigration advisor. As counsel
with the legal arm of FAIR, Kobach drafted the Arizona legislation and similar
legislation for at least five other states. All of these laws rely on a theory called "self-
deportation" that has been endorsed by Mitt Romney. Under this principle,
American citizens would make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that
they would simply go home. In 9500 Liberty, we get a taste for what this means.
Racist rantings are posted on a local website; children are shouted at in the streets;
Latinos are labeled as parasites. As the hatred grows, Latinos flee the county, leaving
homes abandoned and businesses shuttered.
Like the main provision of the Prince William County law, similar restrictionist
laws will fail for two reasons. First, the racial profiling used to enforce the laws
is unconstitutional. Second, the American people will realize, as residents of
Prince William County did, that driving out an entire segment of the population
results in decreasing property values, a shrinking tax base, closed businesses and
increased crime as the community stops trusting the police. Furthermore, the
American people do not have the appetite for the tax increases that would have to
be implemented to pay for enforcement of these laws.
In the words of the late Michael Maggio, "undocumented immigrants
overwhelmingly are self-selecting overachievers who are willing to take
tremendous risks." As Anthony D. Romero of the ACLU states in his introduction
to 9500 Liberty, "what is at stake in the immigration debate is no less than
the character of our nation." Watch 9500 Liberty on SnagFilms.com to better
understand that debate.
Sheila Starkey Hahn practices immigration law in Potomac, MD. She is a member of the ExecutiveCommittee of the DC Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and frequently lectures on topics of immigration law.