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Supreme Court's immigration reality check

Editorial

The justices made the right decision in striking down three of the central provisions in Arizona's noxious immigration law.

June 26, 2012

The Supreme Court made the right decision Monday when it struck down three of the central provisions in Arizona's noxious immigration law as unconstitutional intrusions into the federal government's exclusive authority to regulate the issue. The 5-3 ruling helps reaffirm what should have long been clear to Arizona policymakers: that immigration cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state laws, each with its own view of who should be detained and deported and how.

Supporters of SB 1070 have spent two years arguing that it doesn't conflict with but rather complements federal law. Yet even the conservative-dominated Supreme Court begs to differ. Consider that one of the provisions struck down called for granting state police greater authority to conduct warrantless arrests than even federal immigration agents currently enjoy. "The result would be unnecessary harassment of some aliens" who were not deportable, wrote JusticeAnthony M. Kennedyon behalf of the majority. "This is not the system Congress created." Two other provisions made it a crime to fail to carry immigration papers or for an undocumented person to apply for a job, even though neither is a crime under federal immigration law.

It is troubling, however, that the court let stand a fourth controversial provision, the so-called show-your-papers rule, under which police are required to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest on a legitimate basis. Although the law includes language that supposedly prohibits police from stopping people based on race or national origin, the provision is problematic given Arizona's history of harassing Latinos and given that the underlying goal of SB 1070 is "attrition through enforcement," which effectively means making the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants so difficult that they flee the state.

That provision will now be sent back to a lower court, which will, we hope, strike it down, or at least set strict limits on how police may carry out such status checks. Clear guidelines are necessary to protect individuals against the kind of racial profiling already undertaken by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has often relied on flimsy traffic stops and anonymous tips to round up Latinos without regard to their immigration status or civil rights.

Monday's ruling will surely allow Latinos in Arizona to breathe a bit easier, but it by no means ends the legal debate. Civil rights groups and advocates of immigrants' rights have vowed to press forward in Arizona as well as other states with copycat laws on the books. Ultimately, the only certain way to halt such misguided efforts is for Congress to negotiate a rational, comprehensive approach to reforming the nation's unworkable immigration system.

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