Today's Supreme Court decision on Arizona's immigration law is being treated as a split decision, one where both sides can claim victory. I view it differently. The decision allows for a new police state to target, question and detain people who authorities expect are here illegally. Yes, the majority — joined by Justice Roberts, interestingly — struck down the provisions that required immigrants to carry papers (recently in Alabama, German and Japanese automobile executives who were being courted to come build plants there were embarrassingly arrested for not producing papers), as well as the provision that made it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek employment. But the heart of the bill — call it the "mandate" of the Arizona law — was preserved.
How ominous this law becomes in practice will depend on the zeal of the local authorities, and the actions of the federal government. Police officers know where to find high concentration of illegal immigrants if they want to. And they can still detain them, but now, according to the Supreme Court, they will have to check with federal immigration officials about the status of those detained. This law still gives anti-immigration extremists exactly what they want: the ability to target hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants and send them "home". In that sense, it is a chilling decision by the Court. And it creates a local law enforcement nightmare: How long can you detain the "suspects"? How fast will the INS, not known for its alacrity, answer the questions on status? Is this America we're living in, or some bad World War II movie where people get rounded up for their "otherness" and sent who-knows-where.