OK, so immigration will occupy the news cycle for another week and I didn’t get results on that prediction. But I must say that the opportunity for an entire week of Supreme Court coverage (except for a book review scheduled for Thursday) makes me clap like a baby seal. Yesterday’s biggest decision was on SB 1070, otherwise known as the Arizona immigration law. Let’s go through what was debated, how the justices ruled and my respective assessments.
1. One provision that was struck down was one that empowered state police to arrest anyone without a warrant if they had probable cause to believe that this person should be removed from the U.S. You can guess how many officers would lead themselves to define “probable cause” under this law. I have never believed in warrantless arrests when the offense has not been committed in front of the officer’s eyes, and I would not want police resources devoted to seeking out people who meet the other above-mentioned criteria.
2. The provision making it a state crime for anyone to work, or look for work, without proper documentation was struck down. I am personally ambivalent about the constitutional case against this one; employment laws are generally reserved to the states, and I’m not sure the similarity between this and any federal anti-discrimination law could be successfully argued for illegal immigrants. However, I would rather make it a crime for companies to hire undocumented workers.
3. The provision making non-compliance with federal alien-registration requirements a state crime was struck down. Easy one; federal law clearly preempts it and there is no necessity. (Whose idea was that?)
4. The provision allowing police to check immigration status if they have reasonable suspicion of illegal presence in the U.S. was upheld, although it was made clear that state courts should be given time to review it. Under this law, state police would alert federal police if they have a catch. This isn’t nearly as bad as the warrantless arrests, and while I’m concerned about whether or not this is really within the jurisdiction of state police, coordination could help.
It’s hilarious to see both sides of the SB 1070 debate claiming victory; everyone won and lost something, so neither one should get too excited or disappointed. Perhaps they’re just overcompensating. We can all accept that this ruling was largely a referendum on the negligence of Congress in crafting comprehensive immigration reform. Thanks to this ruling, a new facet of those coming discussions will be the role of state and local authorities in assisting its enforcement.