The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s SB 1070 helped not only Arizona but the entire country take a very small step forward, but we have to hold on to it with all our might or it escapes us.
The Supreme Court affirmed that matters of immigration policy and its implementation are a matter of federal law not state law. This is a word of clarity that has been lost in the political rhetoric that has paralyzed sound thinking and action in Arizona and other states. However, the court’s decision to allow the “show me your papers” section of SB 1070 to remain standing undermines the impact of the positive actions the Supreme Court has taken.
The section of SB 1070 that was left standing is, as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has stated, “the heart of SB 1070.” This section of the law allows local, county and state law enforcement officers to ask people if they are documented or not. It seems that the court believes that this kind of law enforcement within states complements federal law enforcement.
The fact that law enforcement may only ask the question of a person’s documentation after detaining them for lawful reasons is not helpful, as some argue. Giving law enforcement officers serving within states this authority continues to enmesh state and federal enforcement of immigration policy. Those of us who live in Arizona are forced to ask, “Is immigration policy and its implementation a federal not a state matter, or not?” It seems to us that the Supreme Court is sending a contradictory message. The contradiction is, for us, not a simple ruling of law in the abstract or in the yet unknown. It is already critical to life in our state.
The public word is that the section of SB 1070 that was left standing will probably come back through the courts system, challenged as it is implemented. I understand that the Supreme Court has indicated that it will be watching to see whether SB 1070 will be implemented fairly and stands ready to consider further challenges to this state law. While this position is commendable, it is as if nothing has happened in Arizona thus far to strongly suggest that none of SB 1070 is helpful to the fair and just exercise of law in this state. The fact that the sheriff of Maricopa County is under federal indictment for abuse of power is a sign of this. The spirit of this law has already caused racial profiling, and the deterioration of trust between communities of color and local law enforcement.
Arizona has for too long been living under a state of fear, and it is not fear caused by our immigrant population. It is the fear caused by the abuse of power of some in law enforcement and the groping for political gain on the part of others at the expense of immigrants. Former Phoenix police chief Jack Harris was correct many times when he said force local law enforcement to act as immigration officers is to undermine their work. The good work of law enforcement in Arizona has been undermined by misconceived and even malicious laws like SB 1070. Unfortunately, our federal government, for its own political expediency, has allowed us to wallow in our mire, forgetting that, at times, what happens in one state will ultimately seep through and affect the entire country.
I am grateful for President Obama’s moral courage in taking a stand to allow some young immigrants to remain in the U.S. to study, serve in the armed forces, and seek employment. The Obama administration’s decision in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on SB 1070, to suspend all 287g agreements with Arizona, a part of the Secure Communities Program that allows partnerships between local police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is to be commended as well.
We need clear and decisive leadership from our president and federal government on the complex issue of immigration. It would have helped if the Supreme Court had been as clear and decisive.
Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the first Hispanic woman elected as a United Methodist bishop, leads the Phoenix Episcopal Area, Desert Southwest Conference. She is also a spokeswoman for the Council of Bishops on the issue of immigration.