Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in United States v. Arizona, a case focused on the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 “show me your papers” immigration law. In addition to its implications for the continued spread of costly and Draconian state-based laws, the eventual ruling – likely in June 2012 – has implications for the 2012 presidential campaign, especially when it comes to the political engagement of Latino voters and other Americans with close ties to the immigration debate.
Below is a brief overview of the key questions and potential implications of the upcoming case.
- What’s At Stake? In April 2010, Arizona passed a rabidly anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. The law and its focus on an “attrition through enforcement” immigration policy, as an alternative to mass deportation, served as a model for similarly Draconian laws passed in states such as Alabama and Georgia. As the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) explains and CAP highlights, the U.S. Department of Justice subsequently called for the courts to enjoin four provisions of the Arizona law that unconstitutionally interfere with federal immigration policy: Per CAP: “(1) The requirement that all residents of the state, citizens and immigrants alike, “show their papers” if a law enforcement agent who stops them has a “reasonable suspicion” to believe that they are undocumented; (2) The provision making it a state crime if a person cannot produce the proof of their immigration status; (3) The provision making it a state crime for a person to seek work or be employed without the required papers; and (4) The provision authorizing law enforcement to arrest an individual without a warrant if the officer believes they have committed any offense, in Arizona or anywhere else, that would make them deportable. The federal district and appeals courts agreed with the Department of Justice that these provisions in Arizona’s new law were pre-empted by federal law and therefore were temporarily barred from going into effect. Arizona fought these court decisions and appealed them to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments in the case on April 25, 2012.”
- Strong Coalition Backing the Federal Government: On March 26, 2012, over 300 organizations joined 19 amici briefs supporting the U.S. Government in its legal challenge against Arizona’s SB 1070, per the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). Among those joining include 11 states, dozens of cities and towns, immigration experts, foreign governments, law enforcement leaders, Members of Congress, faith organizations, labor groups, former military and State Department officials, former Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioners, Latino civil rights organizations, business groups, and former Arizona attorneys general of both parties, along with 42 other former state attorneys general. Meanwhile, the state of Arizona is joined by a much smaller group of supporters who argue that SB 1070 is, in fact, Constitutional. Many of them are aligned with the anti-immigrant movement, including former Arizona state senator and SB 1070 sponsor Russell Pearce, embattled Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of SB 1070 and sometime Romney advisor Kris Kobach, and the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, among others.
- Why It Matters: The Arizona law will inevitably lead to racial profiling of citizens who “look” or “sound” like immigrants. Law enforcement officials, who are not experts in immigration status determinations, will base their decision on whether to demand “papers” on the way people look or speak. Individuals who have been American citizens all their lives will be asked for “papers” and arrested if they fail to produce a birth certificate or passport. Not only is this un-American, but it takes police away from enforcing criminal laws.
The Arizona law could lead to a patchwork of fifty state immigration laws, instead of a practical, national approach. The U.S. needs one national law on immigration, not a confusing patchwork of fifty different state laws. While it’s true that the current system is broken, only the federal government can resolve it. As the Immigration Policy Center noted, “More than any matter in recent history, the case involves a range of important questions regarding the role that states may play in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The Court’s decision will likely affect not only the future of SB 1070, but the fate of other state immigration laws being challenged in court and the odds of similar laws being passed around the country.”
Specifically, if the Court upholds the Arizona law and gives a stamp of approval to the range of copycat “show me your papers” laws, they will be ushering in an era that will, in the words of CAP:
- Pit pro-and anti-immigrant states against each other by creating hostile versus welcoming environments for immigrants
- Increase racial profiling and ethnic division by requiring police to make investigative decisions based on appearance, not conduct
- Undermine public safety and social cohesion by making immigrant and mixed-status families afraid to report crimes, attend school, receive medical assistance, etc.
- Create severe economic harm by driving needed workers and consumers from the states and hurting the states’ reputations
- Subvert U.S. foreign policy objectives by making foreign nationals and foreign investors feel unwelcome
- Injecting Immigration into 2012 Elections: Gary Segura of Stanford University and a principal at Latino Decisions called the eventual Court ruling, expected in late June, “a huge ticking time bomb” regarding the 2012 presidential race, because of its potential impact on the political choices made by Latinos—from turnout to candidate selection. Overwhelmingly, Latino voters oppose Arizona’s immigration approach: 74% of Latino voters in eight states with significant Latino voting populations express opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070 law, including 65% who call themselves “strongly” opposed to the law. As Latino Decisions notes, Latino voter opposition to the law transcends state of residence, “Distance from the state and immigrant experience have no bearing. U.S. and foreign-born Latino voters in Arizona are equally concerned about the potential impact on Latino Americans.” This is largely due to the personal connection that many Latino voters have with the immigration debate and the way these voters are turned off by anti-immigrant campaigning and candidates. For example, polling of Latino voters in 12 states by Bendixen & Amandi found that 72% of Latino voters would not even consider voting for a congressional candidate who was in favor of forcing most undocumented immigrants to leave the country.
- A Spotlight on Mitt Romney’s Immigration Comments: At a time when both parties are trying to woo the Latino electorate, the Republican Party finds itself in a particularly deep hole. A March 2012 Fox News Latino/Latin Insights poll of 1,200 likely Latino voters found, in the words of the accompanying poll recap from Fox News Latino, “in head-to-head match-ups none of the GOP candidates would garner more than 14 percent of the Latino vote come November.” As he pivots towards the general election and attempts to compete for Latino voters, Mitt Romney will likely be in the uncomfortable position of having to explain his comments from the primary campaign that he viewed Arizona’s approach as a “model for the nation.” The focus around the Supreme Court ruling will also mean more scrutiny of Romney’s promotion of “self-deportation” as immigration policy goal for the nation – essentially seeking to bring the Arizona experiment to the entire country.