The U.S. Supreme Court is in the news again with the decision in the latest case expected to be ideologically based, as usual. In this case. the Court is listening to arguments regarding Arizona’s immigration law that the U.S. Government insists violates federal immigration laws. It would appear the main issue is over states’ rights. Does Arizona have a right to deal with immigrants or is that the purview of the U.S. government? There are other issues with the law as well, however: its implications are most interesting. On the face of it, the law seems fairly straight-forward.
The law makes it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work or fail to carry proper immigration papers, and also requires police officers to check immigration status and make warrantless arrests for immigration crimes in some cases.
The government’s argument insists that a state (any state) dealing with immigration can interfere with international discussions and possible dealings between this country and its neighbors. What this means, I take it, is that Arizona could foul up relations with Mexico (in this case) and create tensions between the countries. In fact, it could create an international incident. This would appear to be a legitimate concern, but, from what I have read, the U.S. government isn’t making a very strong case — even with the justices who would tend to agree with the government’s position. Perhaps it is time for the federal government to hire some competent attorneys. In any event, the issue of racial profiling and the possible abuses that might arise from it are equally compelling.
On the face of it, the procedure of stopping “suspicious” looking people and asking them for their papers would seem to be fairly straight-forward and makes the rest of us feel safe and cozy in our split-level house in the suburbs. But it most assuredly is not. Not only does it involve racial profiling, as mentioned. It also raises the specter of a police state with power given to local authorities to stop anyone who seems “suspicious” and detain them for as long as they deem it necessary, even incarcerate them should they “seek work.” Needless to say, there were a number of protesters outside the courthouse worried about the implications of this decision as it bears on all immigrants. What is it again that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty?
At the risk of committing the “slippery slope fallacy,” I do worry that excessive power granted to any police force is a dangerous thing. I would prefer to err on the side of the rights of individuals not to be stopped because they are regarded as “suspicious” by a group of high school graduates wearing police uniforms and carrying guns. The attorneys for Arizona insist that this would not happen, but the law allows it and we know from history that what is possible often becomes the case. This law leaves the door wide open for abuse, a failing humans seem to have in abundance.
The article alludes to this concern: Justice Anthony Kennedy, generally the court’s swing vote, asked repeatedly about how long someone would be detained while a police officer checked his or her status. “What if it takes two weeks,” to determine someone’s status, he asked. Paul Clement, representing Arizona, said it would take an average of only 11 minutes. Verrilli [for the U.S. government] countered that it takes 70 minutes, when you take into account the hour wait to get through to the federal government’s databases. Surely, Verrilli could have done better than this! Was he going for laughs? Indeed, the question of how long officials in Arizona could detain “suspicious” people is the key here. And Verrilli could have made a stronger case though, given its recent history, the Court is inclined to rule in favor of Arizona no matter how strong a case the government makes. And it is a good bet that’s what the Court will do.