By Alan Bean
The Supreme Court handed the Obama administration a big win by striking down the most egregious portions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Stat law enforcement can determine the immigration status of detained individuals, but cannot stop and question a person on the street simply because they suspect that person may be undocumented.
Although state police officers have a greenlight to determine the immigration status of detained persons, this merely transfers this common practice from ICE, a federal agency, to state and local law enforcement. From the standpoint of the detained individual, it hardly matters whether your status is being checked by ICE officials or by a state official–the result is the same.
Arizona won some state’s rights points, in other words, but the plight of undocumented persons (and those who merely look, by virtue of language, accent and skin-hair color, as if they might be documented) hasn’t changed on iota. Under the all-but-universal Secure Communities program, local law enforcement officials are already required to place an ICE hold on any person they detain for whatever reason. The feds will then run a check and determine whether the individual is subject to deportation.
Secure Communities is well understood in the Latino community, but Anglos hardly know the program exists because, well, they don’t have to worry about it. As a result, some Anglo reporters may interpret today’s ruling as a step toward more stringent immigration practices. It isn’t.
Few understand that few of the supposedly dangerous criminals we deport every year have ever been convicted of a violence-related crime. In the federal system, any conviction stands proxy for future dangerousness.
The good news from today’s ruling is that local and state police officers will not have the right (or the obligation) to stop and question a person suspected of being Latino. This policy, if upheld, would have been a wholesale validation of racial profiling, regardless of what Arizona governor Jan Brewer has to say to the contrary. In the absence of criminal behavior, physical appearance, accent, and the use of non-standard English would have been the only cues that could lead an officer to suspect undocumented status. In other words, Arizona wanted to legalize George Zimmerman-style hunches rooted in ethnic and racial factors and the Supreme Court said no. America just dodged a bullet.
By Robert Barnes, Updated: Monday, June 25, 1:26 PM
The Washington Post
But the ruling also in part vindicated the Obama administration, with the court rejecting three provisions that the federal government opposed.
The court ruled that Arizona cannot make it a misdemeanor for immigrants to fail to carry identification that says whether they are in the United States legally; cannot make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job; and cannot arrest someone based solely on the suspicion that the person is in this country illegally.
The court also said the part of the law it upheld — requiring officers to check the immigration status of those they detain and reasonably believe to be illegal immigrants — could be subject to additional legal challenges once it is implemented.
The other major decision of the court’s term — the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care law — will come Thursday, on the final day of the term.
In a statement Monday, Obama said he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law.” He added that the decision makes clear “that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform,” since a “patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system.” At the same time, Obama said, he remains “concerned about the practical impact” of the part of the law that was allowed to stand.
“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Obama said. “Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the Court’s decision recognizes.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for his part, issued a statement that did not comment on the specifics of the ruling but instead said the decision “underscores the need for a President who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy.”
Obama “has failed to provide any leadership on immigration,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
Romney did not speak to reporters accompanying him Monday on a campaign trip to Arizona, and aides refused to say whether he agrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling or even whether he supports Arizona’s immigration policy.
“The governor supports the states’ rights to craft immigration laws when the federal government has failed to do so,” spokesman Rick Gorka said. “That’s all we’re going to say on this issue.”