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I was confused that both sides of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 claimed victory over the Supreme Court’s split decision Monday.  The Supreme court struck down as unconstitutional most of SB1070 but unanimously upheld what opponents call the most controversial part of the law:  the show me your papers provision.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who succeeded Janet Napolitano after she became Secretary of Homeland Security under the Obama administration, celebrated the decision, calling the ruling “the day Arizona has been waiting for,” adding that Arizona is ready to enforce the law, which she says is in harmony with the constitution, and assuring Arizonans that “civil rights will be protected [and] racial profiling will not be tolerated.”

President Obama said he was pleased the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law, saying that the split decision makes it clear that Congress “must act on comprehensive immigration reform.”  He added, “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system—it’s part of the problem.”

The Law: SB1070 would:

  • Make it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to possess their federal registration cards;
  • Make it a crime for illegal immigrants to work, apply for work or solicit work;
  • Allow state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant when probable cause exists that they committed “any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”
  • Allow state and local police to ask someone for immigration papers when making lawful stops if officers suspect a person is in the country illegally (also known as the “papers please” provision).

Source: USA Today

The Decision: 5-3

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor voted to strike down three provisions of the law, except for the “papers please” provision, while Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas “partially dissented, saying the entire law or most of the law should have been upheld,” according to Yahoo NewsJustice Elena Kagan recused herself because she served as President Obama’s solicitor general when the federal government originally filed against the state.

What does all of this mean?

The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, sympathized with Arizona’s tough position as a state that borders Mexico and deports thousands of illegal immigrants a year.  He adds that while asking for papers is a form of helping not hurting the federal government’s efforts to combat illegal immigration, the state cannot “mete out” its own state punishments for federal immigration crimes.  Yes, it means police officers can ask for immigration papers if they suspect someone they’ve stopped (legally) is in the country illegally, but is also means the state must hand over any illegal immigrants to federal immigration officials.  Governor Brewer assures Arizonans that racial profiling will not be tolerated, which is to say, officers cannot stop someone who “looks like” an illegal immigrant for no reason at all; the driver needs to have made a traffic violation worthy of a stop.

It also means it is not a crime for illegal immigrants not to carry their federal registration cards.  Also, illegal immigrants can look for work and be employed in the U.S., and the police cannot arrest illegal immigrants without warrants.

A win-win, right?  As long as illegal immigrants (who can get driver’s licenses in Utah, Washington, and New Mexico) adhere to Arizona traffic laws and give police officers no reason to stop them, then they have nothing to fear.  Again, Arizona governor Jan Brewer assures Arizonans racial profiling will not be tolerated, and Latinos in Arizona do not need to fear racial profiling nor should they fear for their civil rights.

However, I say, if the number of Latinos stopped by officers on the streets and roads of Arizona increases, the jig is up, and the Arizona governor needs to stop the rhetoric and come clean with the true intentions behind SB1070.

We’ll just have to wait and see.  Believe me, we’ll be watching.

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