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Supreme Court Delivers Mixed Ruling on SB 1070

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Anjali Chaudhry, Priya Murthy, and Sanjeev Sriram (l-r) attended a rally in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on May 1, 2010 to protest Arizona’s SB 1070, one of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant measures.
  • United States

    The Supreme Court June 25 delivered a mixed decision on Arizona’s SB 1070, striking down three provisions but retaining the most contentious part of the legislation which would allow law enforcement officials to demand proof of immigration status from anyone they suspect is undocumented.

    The Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the legislation, but delivered its decision based on whether the measure superseded federal law. Civil rights organizations have stated that SB 1070, passed by the Arizona state Legislature in 2010, would affect any person of color residing or visiting the state and would lead to discrimination and harassment of legal immigrants and U.S. citizens.

    Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Los Angeles, Calif.-based South Asian Network, told India-West, “We’re glad to see that three of the four provisions of this bill have been struck down, but we’re very concerned about the fourth provision which encourages racial profiling, including folks in the South Asian community.”

    Failure to provide proof of immigration status — such as original naturalization certificates, green card or actual U.S. passports, not copies — could result in arrests and jail sentences for up to six months, with a fine of $2,500. Similar measures have since been taken up in six states: Utah, Indiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

    Kulkarni said the legislation has already made an impact in immigrant communities. “Indian Americans who are U.S. citizens feel they should be carrying their passports around. It’s already had a detrimental effect on us,” she said.

    Arizona immediately began implementing the law, requiring police officers to verify immigration status during routine stops if they have a "reasonable" suspicion that someone may be in the country illegally.

    Police officers must look for specific signs such as a lack of a license, driving a car with foreign plates, difficulty speaking English and seeming nervous. Officers have been trained not to detain people for an unreasonable time, said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in a press statement.

    “The law opens the doors to a lot of racial harassment,” Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum Action Fund, told India-West. “If you look or sound like an immigrant, you’re going to be facing discrimination,” he said, adding that both legal and undocumented immigrants would be subject to such harassment.

    The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit last July, saying SB 1070 unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s ability to set and enforce immigration policy, and would lead to a patchwork of state laws, which would be difficult to enforce federally. 

    The Supreme Court, however, upheld a portion of the Arizona legislation — section 2B — saying that requiring police to conduct immigration checks for people they suspect of being illegal does not interfere with federal government powers. 

    The judges, however, blocked a portion of the law that would require all immigrants to register with the state. They also blocked a portion of the bill which would make it a crime for people without work authorization to apply for a job in Arizona.

    Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the Court’s majority opinion, stated: “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting statement, contended that Arizona’s sovereignty as a state gave it the right to impose additional penalties and consequences for violations of federal immigration laws because it is entitled to have its own immigration laws.

    The Supreme Court also blocked a provision that would have allowed law enforcement officials to arrest those they believed to have committed a crime which could lead to their deportation.

    Lobani Hoq, litigation director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, told India-West that this provision in the bill was hugely problematic as it allows local law enforcement to determine what crimes are deportable offenses, a question with which even federal law enforcement officials struggle.

    “We are pleased that the Supreme Court struck down several provisions in the law, but deeply concerned about how section 2B will be implemented, now that the Supreme Court has affirmed its constitutionality,” said Hoq. APALC is part of a coalition that is challenging SB 1070: the case — Friendly House vs. Brewer — is being heard in a district court in Arizona. Advocates say the Arizona law violates equal protection since it seems to be targeting immigrants and also violates the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and prolonged detention.

    Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., immigration task force chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus, said in a statement, “While I applaud the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down most of the key provisions of Arizona’s anti-immigrant enforcement bill, I am extremely disheartened and disappointed by the Court’s ruling to essentially uphold the highly discriminatory and dangerous “show me your papers” provision—thus keeping open the floodgates for legally-sanctioned racial profiling.” 

    “When implemented, Arizonans who look or sound “foreign,” even if they are in fact citizens or legal residents, could be asked for their papers at any given moment—and punished for failing to produce them. As someone who was placed in Japanese internment camps during World War II, I know all too well the effects of scapegoating and racial profiling. Racial profiling is humiliating and degrading, and it tears at the social and moral fabric of families, communities and America as a whole,” he said.

    The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles immediately responded to the Supreme Court ruling, calling the decision “disgraceful.”

    “Thousands upon thousands of people will fall prey to fishing expeditions by anti-immigrant forces (who) inflict suffering, prejudice, and even exile on people based on the color of skin, language, dress code, or ethnicity even if a person was born in the United States,” said CHIRLA in a press statement.

    “Today’s ruling marks a dark day for justice in the history of the United States of America. In one sweep, the Supreme Court has sided with Arizona and allowed racial profiling as an acceptable law enforcement tool,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of CHIRLA.

    California Attorney General Kamala Harris said she was pleased with the Supreme Court ruling. “I believe today’s decision is an important step forward in setting aside policies that divide law enforcement from the communities we serve,” she said. 

    In an earlier story, Indian American residents of Arizona expressed mixed response to SB 1070 (I-W, May 14, 2010). Ash Patel, founder of Flagstaff, Ariz.-based Southwest Hospitality Management, told India-West that he has been stopped by law enforcement officials many times. 

    The state plays host to a number of elderly tourists who come to see the Grand Canyon, and may not be able to immediately provide proof of documentation to law enforcement, said Patel. A decrease in tourism dollars could economically affect his business and the state, he added.

    But Mariaah Aggarwal, who has lived in Phoenix, Ariz., for 15 years, told India-West that she had no issue with going to jail if she were ever to be stopped without proper documentation. “The state is trying to take care of us; it’s for our own best welfare,” she said, shortly after Arizona passed the measure.

    The Supreme Court decision was handed down a week after President Barack Obama announced a new Department of Homeland Security directive which would defer deportation for many of the nation’s undocumented students (I-W, June 22). Several pro-immigration rallies across the country had been planned for June 26.

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