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Arizona's 'show me your papers' provision stuck in legal limbo

August 09, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer points during an intense conversation with President Obama after he arrived at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer points during an intense conversation with President… (Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated…)

It's been a little more a month since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's notoriously harsh SB 1070 immigration law. The one provision that did survive the legal test has languished in a kind of legal limbo. It requires that police conduct mandatory immigration checks of individuals who authorities stop or arrest for another law enforcement reason.

Now some groups are suggesting the provision known as "show me your papers" may finally kick in. On Wednesday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals officially handed the case back to U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton. 

But it remains unlikely that police will start the immigration checks in the near future. Why? As it turns out, though Bolton is required to lift the injunction that prevented local law enforcement from conducting the checks, she could issue another similar order in response to a new legal challenge brought last month. Civil and immigrant rights groups are suing Arizona, arguing the "show me your papers" provision will result in racial profiling and in the prolonged detention of individuals who are stopped by police and held until authorities can determine their immigration status.

And Bolton could also lift the injunction and ask the Arizona Supreme Court to weigh in and interpret how the "show me your papers"  provision can be applied. That means police would probably wait until the state court defines what they are permitted to do while conducting such checks.

And who can blame law enforcement for treading carefully. Some police and sheriff departments have said publicly they don't want their personnel turned into immigration agents. They worry the law will make it harder to secure the cooperation of residents in large immigrant communities who may fear any contact with police. But perhaps the most compelling reason for police to move cautiously is that the U.S. Supreme Court clearly noted in its decision that the immigration checks cannot result in the prolonged detention of an individual while police determine his or her immigration status.

So just how long will it be before the Arizona police begin conducting mandatory immigration checks? It seems that has yet to be determined. 

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