The Common Good

Supreme Courts Stops Some of Arizona’s Attack on Immigrants

Supreme Court image, Mesut Dogan / Shutterstock.com
Supreme Court image, Mesut Dogan / Shutterstock.com

Today the Supreme Court struck down three central provisions of Arizona’s controversial anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. Attempts by Arizona to force immigrants to carry identification, create legal penalties for undocumented workers seeking employment, or detain individuals solely based on suspicions about their immigration status were ruled to interfere with the federal government’s right and responsibility to set immigration policy.

The Court let one of the morally troubling sections, known as 2(B), to stand, which allows law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals apprehended for non-immigration offenses, if law enforcement has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person violated U.S. immigration laws in entering the country. (Read more on concerns about the racial profiling measure HERE.)

However, the Supreme Court’s upholding of this last section should not be seen as a victory for anti-immigrant advocates. The Court stated that:

"It is not clear at this stage and on this record that §2(B), in practice, will require state officers to delay the release of detainees for no reason other than to verify their immigration status. This would raise constitutional concerns. And it would disrupt the federal framework to put state officers in the position of holding aliens in custody for possible unlawful presence without federal direction and supervision."

In other words, the Court has interpreted 2(B) very narrowly and will be watching for any constitutional infringements it creates. According to the released opinion, the Supreme Court determined 2(B) does not conflict with federal law because there was no “definitive interpretation from the State Courts.” Should the law prove to be interpreted more expansively by Arizona’s Courts or implemented in a way that violated federal law, the Court stated, “This opinion does not  foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.” Indeed, other challenges to Arizona’s law, and similar measures enacted by other states, that focus on the potential civil rights violations of these laws will continue.

Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, praised the decision, issuing the following statement: 

"Christians concerned about vulnerable immigrants have called laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 immoral, and now the Supreme Court has declared those laws  unconstitutional. Our national immigration system is broken, and a patchwork of harsh state-level immigration laws isn’t the way to fix it. The decision to strike down key provisions of this legislation is a victory for everyone in the faith community who seeks to follow the Bible’s call for concern for the vulnerable and “stranger” among us.

Arizona’s immoral legislation threatened families, harmed children, and made it difficult for law enforcement to safeguard the communities they swore to protect; it remains important to ensure that any remaining parts of the legislation are never used to justify racial profiling by local police.

Earlier this month, nearly 150 evangelical leaders set aside their own political differences to endorse basic moral principles that should guide immigration reform. We called for Congress to put away the partisan talking points, end the political games, and find a common-ground solution that fixes America’s broken immigration system: now they should act."

Beau Underwood is Campaigns Manager for Sojourners.

Supreme Court image, Mesut Dogan / Shutterstock.com

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