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Supreme Court gets Arizona's SB 1070

Editorial

The justices should reject its provisions as an unconstitutional intrusion into the federal government's authority to make and enforce immigration laws.

April 23, 2012
  • A border patrol vehicle drives along the U.S.-Mexico border fence on the outskirts of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, near Yuma, Arizona in 2010. The underlying goal of SB 1070 is "attrition through enforcement" -- making undocumented immigrants feel unwelcome in Arizona and making their day-to-day lives so difficult that they move on.
A border patrol vehicle drives along the U.S.-Mexico border fence on the… (Guillermo Arias / AP Photo )

For nearly two years, Arizona has defended SB 1070, a dangerous law that attempts to turn local law enforcement officers into federal immigration agents.

The courts have repeatedly rejected Arizona's arguments that the law isn't an attempt to interfere with federal authority to regulate immigration but rather an effort to work cooperatively with Washington. On Wednesday, state officials will make a final pitch to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices should strike down the provisions in question as an unconstitutional intrusion into the federal government's exclusive authority to make and enforce immigration laws.

Since the law was passed, it's been clear that it was both mean-spirited and likely to lead to racial profiling and discrimination. But it is also a clear preemption of federal power. For example, SB 1070 requires that police check the immigration status of anyone they stop in the course of their work and whom they suspect of being in the country illegally, even those pulled over for routine traffic violations. If that person can't provide documentation, he or she may be detained. The law also authorizes police, who have received no training in the complexities of immigration law, to carry out arrests without warrants if they suspect that an individual has committed a deportable offense. The problem is that Arizona doesn't have the authority or ability to make deportation determinations. That burden would ultimately fall to federal officials, who would be forced to shift resources from their top priority — deporting immigrants with criminal records — in order to deal with people who have been detained merely because they are suspected of being here illegally. That hardly makes for the kind of sensible "cooperation" between state and federal law officers that has been authorized by Congress.

The underlying goal of SB 1070 is "attrition through enforcement" — making undocumented immigrants feel unwelcome in Arizona and making their day-to-day lives so difficult that they move on. Gov. Jan Brewer argues that this can be done without abuse or racial profiling of Latinos. But similar efforts undertaken by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio have produced alarming results. Arpaio used the power of his office to stop Latino drivers disproportionately and to initiate immigration sweeps in neighborhoods not in response to reports of crime but rather to complaints that people with dark skin were present. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that such tactics resulted in "unconstitutional policing" and routinely violated the rights of Latinos, including U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Arizona is understandably frustrated by Washington's failure to address immigration reform. Republicans and Democrats regularly denounce the system as broken but then do little to fix it. However, allowing Arizona's misguided law to stand isn't the answer. The high court should declare it unconstitutional once and for all.

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