By: Stephen Koerting*
On Monday, June 25, the Supreme Court ruled on the controversial Arizona Immigration Law, S.B. 1070, from 2010. The Court unanimously sustained the central “show me your papers” provision that requires state law enforcement to determine the immigration status of individuals they have stopped or arrested, if an illegal status is reasonably suspected. In the majority opinion, the Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy highlighted that officials already possessed the discretion to ask one’s immigration status, and this law simply makes the inquiry mandatory when suspicion is present. Many, including President Obama, worry that the Arizona Law could lead to racial profiling. “No American should live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” stated Obama.
However, the state law contains safeguards that instruct officials not to consider race or natural origin unless already permitted by law. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer claims that enforcing the law without resorting to ethnic profiling is possible and expected. Her claim will be put to the test when S.B. 1070 is put into action and officers are forced to legitimize their suspicion. The Supreme Court warned that they would be watching the implementation of the law, and their ruling leaves opportunities for future challenges and modifications, including the constitutional concerns with detainment, reasonable suspicion, interpretation and application of the law. These areas involving detainment, suspicion, and application are the primary areas of concern and it seems unlikely that the law can be carried out while remaining racially fair and unbiased.
The Supreme Court parted ways on three provisions of the 2010 Arizona Law that were blocked by the majority. The first made failing to register with the federal government and to carry proper registration documents a crime. Another provision made it a crime for illegal immigrants to work, or even to try to find work. The final blocked provision allowed officials to arrest individuals without a warrant for committing an offense they believed would make them deportable under federal law. While some Justices and legislators believe that States should have the right to make new policy if the government lacks these efforts, the majority blocked the three provisions because the State interfered with the federal government’s role in setting immigrations policy. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy says, “the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
With five other states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah – having already enacted immigration statutes similar to Arizona, the June 25 ruling most likely will not be the last decision enforcing the role states play in contesting illegal immigration.
* Stephen Koerting is a legal intern at Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates, P.C.