The United States Supreme Court shot down much of Arizona’s controversial law aimed at the identification and punishment of illegal immigrants Monday morning.
But, the High Court upheld what many consider the most controversial portion of that law, which allows local law enforcement agencies to check a person’s immigration status during lawful stops, detentions, and arrests.
In a 5-3 split decision, with one justice abstaining, the court determined that although individual states and local law enforcement have traditionally had little to no influence enforcing immigration laws, they are within their rights to check a person’s citizenship status during stops.
Immediately after the ruling was issued, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer sought to squash any concern that the law might be abused to unfairly target Latinos.
“Civil rights will be protected,” said Brewer. “Racial profiling will not be tolerated.”
The law requires an officer to have “reasonable suspicion” before initiating an immigration status check. But, local Latino community leaders are concerned about what will constitute “reasonable suspicion” and the possibility that Arizona’s practice will become a regular practice across the nation.
“Anyone that is suspected just because of appearance, calls into question this whole thing of racial profiling,” said Dr. Jess Nieto, with the Heritage of America Foundation in Bakersfield. “You know, you can be profiled and [asked], ‘Where are your papers?’”
Arizona’s law has been dubbed by critics as the “Where are your papers” or “Show me your papers” law, in reference to Nazi secret police activity before and during World War II.
But, Dr. Nieto and other critics of Arizona’s law were also celebrating the fact that much of the law was shot down by the court.
Three main provisions bit the dust. The court ruled:
1) Local law enforcement agencies cannot arrest someone without a warrant on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. Immigration-related arrests have to be conducted by federal agents with a warrant from the Attorney General, in most circumstances.
2) Illegal immigrants cannot be criminally prosecuted for lacking documentation.
3) Illegal immigrants cannot be criminally prosecuted for seeking employment.
“The key thing that happened, that I think is very important, is that Arizona essentially was told you cannot come up with your own state legislation laws that counter those of the federal government,” said Dr. Nieto.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood also weighed in on the ruling. He said it will have no impact on how his office conducts traffic stops. He acknowledges that the office has enough to worry about without asking for proof of citizenship during a stop or arrest.
"If someone commits a crime in Kern County, the least important thing to me or to the officers on scene is where they're from,” said Sheriff Youngblood. “The fact they committed a crime and need to be removed from the streets so the victim and other people are safe is most important."
The Bakersfield Police Department declined to comment on the Supreme Court ruling.
It was not immediately clear Monday afternoon when Arizona will begin conducting immigration status checks during stops and arrests.