The Supreme Court today upheld the "papers please" part of Arizona's illegal immigrant law in a 5-3 decision that allows police officers to ask about immigration status during stops.
The "papers please" part of the law, which never went into effect because of court challenges, can be immediately enforced in Arizona. Other parts of the law, including a provision that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work, will remain blocked, as the justices affirmed the federal government's supremacy over immigration policy.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote, wrote the opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Conservative Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas partially dissented, saying the entire law or most of the law should have been upheld.
In the opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that the federal government's "power to determine immigration policy is well settled." But he also sympathized with Arizona's burden in dealing with illegal immigrants.
"Arizona bears many of the consequences of unlawful immigration," he wrote. "Hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens are apprehended in Arizona each year."However, the justices found that Arizona cannot mete out their own state punishments for federal immigration crimes.
"Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law," Kennedy writes in the opinion's conclusion.Police immigration checks are allowed, however, only because state police would simply flag federal authorities, when the identify illegal immigrants.
Since the passage of Arizona's "papers, please" law, likely voters in Arizona have shifted their support to Democratic candidates in a "very substantive way," according to analysis by Public Policy Polling. That shift is largely due to energized (and probably angry) Latino voters, say Tom Jensen, PPP's director:
The U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a key provision of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law will lead to racial profiling and discrimination, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero warned today.
At the same time, Romero said he was heartened by the fact that the court did not shut the door on future challenges to the law.
“We are not done in Arizona and will continue the battle against discriminatory laws like these that encourage racial profiling and undermine the constitutional guarantee of equal protection,” Romero said. “Be it in the courts or in state legislatures, we will aggressively take on these laws and blunt the effects of this miscarriage of justice. When local police can stop and detain anyone they perceive as ‘foreign’ because of their skin color, their accent or their surname, it is a watershed moment for civil rights.”
Today’s decision struck down three provisions of Arizona’s law, but upheld the notorious “show me your papers” provision, which requires illegal detentions and systematic racial profiling by local police. The court rejected the federal government’s argument that Arizona overstepped its power as a state. In a separate suit, the ACLU, along with a coalition of advocacy groups, will continue the fight to block the Arizona law as a violation of core constitutional rights, Romero said.
“The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the "show me your papers" provision for now will lead to widespread civil rights violations until it is reviewed again and possibly struck down,” Romero said. “Today's decision is an invitation for more litigation, while civil rights are inevitably violated.”
In anticipation of the ruling, Romero announced the ACLU has amassed an $8.77 million “war chest” to aggressively battle any state’s attempts to enact copycat legislation while also fighting the “corrosive effects” of existing anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and five other states.
The high court affirmed the most egregious and hotly disputed part of the Arizona law, S.B. 1070, which requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained when there is “reasonable suspicion” a person is not in the U.S. legally. Although the state law is not yet in effect, some Arizona sheriffs have already engaged in widespread racial profiling and discrimination in a state that is 30 percent Latino.
“When law enforcement can say ‘show me your papers,’ Arizona begins to resemble a police state, rather than one of the United States.” Romero said. “At the same time S.B. 1070 and its copycats codify discrimination, polarize communities and undercut legitimate police work.”
They also exact a heavy financial toll. States have already begun to recognize laws like these devastate local economies. A University of Alabama study found Alabama’s state economy may have suffered as much as $6.5 billion in damage as a result of its anti-immigrant law. Arizona saw a drop in sales tax revenue and a jump in the unemployment rate when S.B. 1070 first became law in 2010. Farmers have seen their crops rot or are planting less because the migrant workers they have relied on for decades have fled the state in fear.
Meanwhile, local governments that attempted their own immigrant crackdowns have spent millions of dollars defending what Romero called “indefensible” laws. In Hazleton, Penn., news reports revealed the city spent about $500,000 in legal fees and is on the hook for at least $2.4 million for the prevailing side’s attorneys’ fees. In Farmers Branch, Texas, the city has already paid $3.4 million to defend its law, and may owe another $2 million to the winning side. Both cities’ insurance carriers have refused to cover the legal bills.
The “show me your papers” provision of S.B. 1070 has been blocked by lower courts until now. Arizona has not signaled whether it would immediately attempt to have local governments enforce the rule. However, Romero said the ACLU is prepared to combat a wave of harassment and discrimination against Latinos and anyone deemed “suspect.”
The campaign against anti-immigrant laws announced by Romero today is underwritten by 14 leaders in the business and philanthropic communities, who he said recognize that “today’s decision betrays our country’s founding premise as a nation of immigrants and a beacon of freedom and justice.” The campaign will provide funding to:
- Bolster litigation efforts in the six states that currently have anti-immigrant laws on the books. Litigate against any state enacting anti-immigrant laws.
- Thwart copycat legislation from becoming law by initiating increased advocacy and lobbying efforts on the state level.
- Strengthen coalitions with other progressive groups, faith-based organizations and community leaders also fighting anti-immigrant laws.
- Compel federal officials and state lawmakers to craft an immigration policy that reflects core American values.
- Underwrite a public education campaign to alert more people about the dangers and devastating effects these laws have on citizens and non-citizens alike.
For information on states where anti-immigrant laws have been enacted or have been introduced, go to: www.aclu.org/sb1070