Supreme Court Arizona Immigration Decision: How SB 1070 is Racist

The Supreme Court rejected three out of four of the provisions of the controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070. 

The Court rejected making it a crime for suspected illegal immigrants to not carry proof of citizenship or residency papers and to seek employment. They also prohibited checking the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants. However, the Court left the article requiring police conducting a stop, detention, or arrest to to verify the person’s immigration status with the federal government. This provisions, it was argued, encourages police to target foreign-looking criminals.The Supreme Court sent this provision back to lower courts for further review.  

The Court's ruling forces police away from racial profiling. Without the ability to criminalize not carrying citizenship or residency papers, police cannot detain foreign-looking people without a warrant. The ruling forbids arrests for not carrying appropriate documentation papers. Rather, having a U.S. driver’s license is sufficient to prove lawful residency. If a person does not have any identification on oneself, the police can only call the federal government for verification.

Police are also not allowed to stop people that look foreign. If police were to stop someone using racial profiling, police could lose law suits. Police are forbidden to stop or detain people for immigration reasons unless they have a warrant. Police can only stop people for crimes that they have warrants for. If police cannot prove that they stopped or detained a person for criminal purposes, they would have no valid reason for the stop or detention. Racial profiling would be difficult to disprove; thus, deterring future racial profiling for the general public. But the decision forces police towards targeting foreign-looking people who commit crime. 

Upholding the clause on checking immigrant status of people stopped, detained, or arrested focuses the attention of police on the capture of illegal immigrants that are criminal. The ruling pushes the emphasis of fighting crime. Such legalization can cause the targeting of foreign-looking individuals. Police can look for foreign-looking people committing the minutest crime as an excuse to check immigration.

Many people argue that police lack the necessary resources to target foreign-looking criminals. But a lack of resources only enhances the targeting of foreign-looking people. Without the necessary manpower to stop every crime, police must focus their resources on foreign-looking people in order to carry out the mission of SB 1070. 

SB 1070 states that if police do not enforce the law, they can be sued. 

Equality of the law dissolves. Average people become targets only for their features. Instead of everyone having a fair chance before the law, foreign-looking individuals have a higher chance of being detained.

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Jacinda Chan

Jacinda graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a dual bachelor's degree in rhetoric and political science. She is currently pursuing a masters in international criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth. She is fluent in German. Since then, she has done various research and writing internships covering Turkish politics at the Diplomatic Courier, writing reports on legal systems in the Middle East, and researching the entire human rights history of Iran and Egypt. At the Levin Institute, she wrote news analysis about human rights in Latin America.

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