SB 1070 Decision Still Leaves Doubt about Who’s Enforcing What

Catharine Debelle • Jun 26, 2012

photo by Rob Crawley

The Supreme Court ruled today to preempt three of four SB 1070 provisions. While it’s good that undocumented workers will not be criminalized over employment and that police cannot make unwarranted arrests, the racial profiling provision of the law, i.e. “2(b),” remains—for now anyway.

“Before you get into what the case is about,” Chief Justice John Roberts said, “I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?”

The federal government, represented by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, stuck to the preemption argument, i.e. that Arizona overstepped their boundaries by basically writing their own immigration rules. Preemption argues that the federal government has exclusive authority over immigration and naturalization.

Arizona’s attorney Paul D. Clement stated that SB1070 doesn’t preempt federal law, it supports it. In fact he offered that Arizona was just doing what the federal government already asks states to do. Programs like Secure Communities and 287(g), which deputizes local police as immigration enforcement officers, are the primary examples of such requests.

The DOJ, it soon seemed, was having trouble convincing the justices that Arizona had strayed into federal territories. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the most skeptical of Arizona’s law, seemed frustrated by Verrilli’s efforts to draw a clear enough distinction between federal enforcement programs and state law enforcement staff/SB 1070. “You can see it’s not selling very well,” she said. “Why don’t you try to come up with something else?”

The major difference is before state and local police can engage in immigration enforcement and background checks, police training and ICE supervision are required. In stark contrast, SB1070 does not mandate any of these requirements whatsoever. SB1070 “prohibits” racial profiling, but its authors penned no provisions for holding police accountable via any sort of appeals process.

For example, the US Department of Justice investigated the widespread complaints of racial profiling by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Arpaio’s questionable incarnation tactics such as “Tent City” were found to be inhumane. Prisoners were subjected to temperatures in the Arizona exceeding 110 °F. His investigative procedures are also suspect: a person of Latino descent is 4-9 times more likely to be stopped, and 20% of the stops lacked any probable cause.

Upholding the racial profiling provision is a monumental mistake. This ruling gives states the green light to treat people differently based upon the color of their skin rather than solely on character and/or conduct.

Those being affected by the deportations are not all hardened criminals; many of them are members of honest families, your next door neighbor, taxpayers, productive leaders in your community, somebody’s father or mother. Simply put, these laws break up families and harm America.

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