Supreme Court rules for and against sections of SB 1070 that strongly impact Latinos
The long-awaited Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s SB 1070 struck down one of the clauses viewed as one of the most problematic by Latinos, and upheld another, in a decision that restricted itself to considering whether federal law preempted the state provisions.
Section 6 of SB 1070, permitting warrantless arrest of individuals if there was “probable cause” to believe the individual had committed a deportable offense, was struck down. For many Latinos citizens, this seemed the one of the most egregious of SB 1070’s statutes, since no other rationale other than likelihood of deportability was required for an arrest to be effected. It was hard to envision any method, other than racial profiling, of determining probable cause. The Supreme Court’s decision, however, was not based on any argument about potential civil rights violations (indeed, no part of the case was argued in those terms) but on the agreement that the decision about whether or when to arrest someone for being in the country unlawfully rests solely with the federal government.
The other two sections struck down by the Supreme Court were section 3 (which proposed additional state fines and imprisonment on those in the country without authorization) and section 5(C) (which would make it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job in the state).
However, the “heart of SB 1070,” according to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, was upheld by the Supreme Court. She is referring to Section 2(B) of the law, which enables police to check on the immigration status of those they detain before releasing them. It also allows law enforcement to stop and detain those suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Although the law prohibits stopping people on the basis of race or national origin, it is hard to see how it will be effected otherwise. When SB 1070 was initially proposed, supporters claimed that decisions to stop and detain could be made on the basis of clothing and footwear choices, the type and condition of cars being driven and a host of other questionable rationales that reeked of stereotypes about Latinos.
It is Section 2(B) moreover, that will force native-born and authorized Latinos to carry identification on them at all times. Not just a driver’s license, mind you, but a passport or birth certificate or green card —for fear of being stopped and detained simply for looking or sounding or seeming “Latino” and therefore of suspicious status, immigration-wise, to Arizona’s law enforcement officers.
No matter the protestations to the contrary, this section’s practical application seems predicated on racially profiling Latinos — it is hard to imagine Arizona’s police stopping and detaining Irish-looking or Canadian-looking or British-looking people to check on immigration status — and seems to fly in the face of existing civil rights protections.
But then the Supreme Court wasn’t concerned with civil rights, only federal v. state authority as regards immigration, and that’s a shame. We have to wonder whether the Supreme Court’s decision will green-light provisions similar to Section 2(B) in states already considering SB 1070 clones — like Pennsylvania. Will we become another “show me your papers” state?
The Supreme Court’s answer isn’t no.