The U.S. Supreme Court will hear today arguments for and against provisions of the controversial anti-immigrant Arizona state law known as SB 1070.
The ruling, expected by the end of June, will be a landmark decision for the 50 million Latinos in the United States. While the case ostensibly brings into question whether states have the authority to regulate immigration, it indirectly considers the possibility of legalizing discrimination against people who don’t look white.
SB 1070 is a package of harsh regulations ostensibly aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of Arizona, a border state.
One of the regulations in question authorizes state police to stop people when there is “reasonable suspicion” that they’re undocumented; another criminalizes foreigners who don’t carry alien registration documents.
Arizona argues that, taking into account the state’s large undocumented immigrant population, its battered economy and the federal government’s failure to overhaul the current immigration system, the state government must have the right to create its own regulatory framework.
However, many Arizona residents, some of them Republican, have criticized the harshness of the law because it targets and alienates Hispanic residents, who often belong to mixed status families, and adversely affects the immigrant workforce. As part of the backlash, Senator Russell Pearce, the law’s main proponent, was voted out of office in November.
What the Supreme Court decides will set a huge precedent and have nationwide repercussions, especially for Hispanics and other groups all over the country. SB1070 has triggered a slew of similar measures targeting brown people in other states, including Utah, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.
The danger of turning local police officers into immigration agents, and thus, discouraging people from reporting crimes they have witnessed and been victims of, has been emphasized by police chiefs across the country. It also makes millions of citizens, legal permanent residents and undocumented immigrants without criminal backgrounds vulnerable to being detained just for not being the perceived ‘correct American color’. This discrimination is unthinkable in a country that -whether people like it or not- is becoming increasingly Latino.
There is no other way to respond: The Supreme Court must uphold the decisions of the lower courts and declare the law unconstitutional. This would remind everyone that the federal government’s Executive and Legislative branches are responsible for regulating immigration. The President and Congress should be pushed to right-size and reform our immigration system and resolve the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who currently live here.
The Court’s decision goes far beyond a historical discussion on the scope of federalism. The ruling will send a message to the world about how this nation stands for -or marginalizes- vulnerable communities.