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Immigration Showdown in Arizona by Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.
Photo: Demonstrators in Arizona
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that it will hear arguments in June concerning Arizona’s controversial immigration measures, the infamous SB 1070 signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2010.
Soon after it was signed, the Obama administration sued to block four provisions in the new law, claiming that the Arizona statute defied the federal government’s mandate to regulate immigration law and enforcement. The four provisions in question include requirements that law enforcement officers verify the legal statuses of suspects stopped or arrested, verify the legal statuses of individuals before they’re released, and stop and verify individuals suspected of being in the country illegally. The law would also make criminals out of all immigrants who fail to register and any undocumented immigrant looking for work in the state.
This past April, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s block of the four provisions, prompting Gov. Brewer to appeal to the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue.
The questions arising from Arizona v. United States seem clear enough: first, do the four provisions in question constitute a potential violation of civil rights; and second, does Arizona have the right to set its own immigration policy, and if so, does SB 1070 fall within that right?
As a Latino and a progressive, it’s my belief that, if undocumented Latinos are not afforded certain civil rights as victims of a failed legal system, then SB 1070 at least has the potential of violating the rights of Latinos who are natural born citizens. Since there don’t exist any telltale signs that an individual is living in the United States illegally, requiring police officers to question and detain suspects suspected of being undocumented immigrants places normal American citizens in the crosshairs of law enforcement run-amok. Such a process would undoubtedly involve ethnic profiling, which clearly is unconstitutional, not to mention immoral and unethical.
The first question appears to be the easiest to answer. Americans nationwide from every section of society were not offended by SB 1070 because it represented a state trying to regulate immigration for itself. No. What most Americans found to be so despicable were the overt ethnic stereotyping and civil rights violations implicit in carrying out such a law. Had SB 1070 steered clear of stereotyping Latinos and placing Latino citizens at a disadvantage, most Americans – maybe even most Latinos included – would’ve found little fault with the new law. That the law is un-American has seemed quite clear from the outset.
Justices will, however, wrestle with a state’s right to set its own immigration policy if the state disagrees with the federal policy and the way it’s carried out. State sovereignty versus federal sovereignty, to put it simply, is at the heart of the current debate.
Truthfully, I’m inclined to think that a state does have the right to design its own immigration policy, but if and where the federal government fails to regulate immigration. That said, Arizona, at this point in time, has no legal justification for attempting to take its immigration policy and enforcement into its own hands, because the Obama administration has proven itself to be exceptionally effective when it comes to the enforcement of current immigration laws.
Famously and infamously, the Obama White House has overseen more deportations in a given year than any other American president, for three consecutive years. In the year ending in September, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security deported a record 396,906 persons, a figure just shy of the Congressional maximum set at 400,000. And in August, the Associated Press reported that the annual number of Mexicans entering the United States virtually matches the number of Mexicans leaving the United States for Mexico.
How, then, can anyone in any state argue that the federal government has failed to regulate immigration in this country?
It would seem, then, that the Supreme Court must rule that, even if states do possess some right to regulate immigration when and where the federal government fails to do so, the state of Arizona has no legal justification for overstepping its powers in this case because the federal government has performed its immigration duties more effectively than any former administration.
And speaking of, since the Obama administration has complied with every demand made by the Republican Party in terms of immigration law enforcement – since the president has detained more persons than any other president in history and has presided over a net flow of virtually zero at the U.S.-Mexico border – when will the time come when the American people demand that the Republican Party adhere to its part of the bargain and join the Democrats in passing fairer immigration reform?
If the Supreme Court decides against Arizona in the summer, that time will have arrived.
In 2007 Hector Luis Alamo, Jr co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, and has contributed regularly to the site since then. From December 2010 to May 2011, Hector was Opinions Editor for UIC’s Chicago Flame. In April 2011, he became a regular contributor for Hispanically Speaking News. Hector has a B.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.