On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that largely amends Arizona’s controversial 2010 anti-immigration law. However, despite ruling out several important elements, the court upheld the “show me your papers” provision, which authorizes police officers to operate random identity checks on “suspicious” persons.
By Laurent Berstecher
The Court ruled out three key provisions of the SB-1070 bill for going against the constitution, leading to the following changes:
- It is now no longer legal for police officers to arrest immigrants on probable cause charges (e.g. without a warrant)
- It is no longer a crime for immigrants not to carry identification and registration papers with them
- It is no longer a crime for illegal immigrants to look for a job or solicit work
However, it maintained what is perhaps the most controversial aspect of SB-1070. The provision, which has cynically been nicknamed the “show me your papers” law by its opponents, basically enables police officers to undertake ‘random’ identification checks, provided that there is “reasonable suspicion.”
Critics have voiced their discontent at this half-decision, claiming that the “show me your papers” provision remains one of the most dangerous aspects of the law and that it will lead to instances of racial profiling.
While a step in the right direction, Monday’s ruling will have left many pundits bitter and disappointed.
City Council speaker Christine Quinn praised the Court’s decision, but deplored that it did not go all the way, adding that upholding the “show me your papers” provision undermined “the ideal that America was founded on […] the welcome and support of every person who comes into this nation in pursuit of the American Dream.”
Meanwhile, President Obama also expressed his concerns in a written statement, pointing out that “No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed the original SB 1070 back in 2010, assured the public that police officers were receiving special training not to profile people based on their skin colors. However, as many critics duly pointed out, random immigration status checks are in essence targeted towards people of color.
We spoke with M. Walter Barrientos, Program Officer at the North Star Fund, an organization supporting immigrant communities in New York. Along with his parents and sister, Barrientos left Guatemala in 1996 in pursuit of a better life. In a turn of fate, Barrientos was offered a special visa after he was attacked by a gang and collaborated with the police on the investigation. However, he told us that his parents only got their visas processed in January, 16 years after they came to the United States.
“I know first-hand how it feels to be taken apart from the group,” says Barrientos, referring to his past experiences with racial profiling. Before he obtained his visa, recent-graduate Barrientos was on a train to Chicago when immigration officers proceeded to a ‘random’ sweep. “They told me to follow them, and took everyone who wasn’t white into questioning.” Walter and the others illegals were detained in a high security prison for three days, after which he was released on a $10,000 bail. “I got lucky, I had connections,” Barrientos says. “Everyone else got deported.”
Walter Barrientos’ views on Monday’s ruling reflect the majority of the public’s opinion. While he sees it as an encouragement for future battles, he cannot bring himself to call the Court’s decision a victory.
“The Court definitely struck down some of the weaker provisions, but the one that could have the most impact was upheld,” says Barrientos. “[Show me your papers] makes it the most difficult because it breaks the trust between the community and the police.”
Walter Barrientos also expressed his concerns that police officers will increasingly double as “immigration agents.” And this is not limited to Arizona either. Not only will the Supreme Court’s ruling set a precedent for similar immigration laws to be passed in other states, but the City of New York has recently begun implementing an aggressive immigration program known as Secure Communities, which aims to reinforce cooperation between local police, the FBI and the ICE.
While the Supreme Court’s crackdown on parts of Arizona’s controversial immigration law certainly holds hope for the future, prospects largely remain gloomy and uncertain for many immigrant communities in America.
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