Whose Victory? SB 1070 and Arizona’s GOP

On Monday, the Supreme Court threw down a ruling on SB 1070. The decision was split, with 3 parts of the law declared unlawful and the controversial let-me-see-your-papers provision was left standing (although a bit toothless). In the aftermath of the ruling, both opponents and supporters of the law claimed a victory. Arizona conservatives in particular were eager to herald a victory for the state’s immigration hardliners. Russell Pearce, the author of the bill and victim to the subsequent recall campaign, tweeted that it was “a huge win… for Arizona and the nation.” My own Congressman, Rep. David Schweikert, said that the ruling was “a victory for Arizona and our state’s right to defend our citizens.” Governor Jan Brewer [pdf] said it was “a victory for the rule of law. It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.”

How much did Arizona Republicans win? The Court struck down state penalties for undocumented immigration, including penalties for not having immigration identification or for applying for work without the proper documents. The Court also invalidated the provision that allowed officers to arrest anyone believed to be undocumented. The only thing left of the provisions is the check-your-papers bit, but as Laurie Roberts says, “SB 1070 allows Arizona police to ask about immigration status. They just can’t do anything about it once they get an answer.”

Justice Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear that what remains of the check-your-papers provision is not to be abused, specifying that those under suspicion should not be held any longer for an immigration status check than they would be for the offense for which they were originally detained. Indeed, the decision leaves the door open for the inevitable challenge – and there are still a couple of challenges winding their way through the court system. The decision also acknowledged the executive branch’s discretion when it comes to how to enforce national immigration law, which makes SB 1070 largely useless. As Judd Legum notes, the decision largely supports President Obama’s recent directive to restrict deportations for many young immigrants.

Almost immediately after the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was scaling back program 287(g), which deputized local law enforcement with immigration duties. This means that even if local police do suspect someone to be undocumented, they have to defer to federal officials to act. Along with the Obama administration’s new directive on abandoning low-priority deportations and the Supreme Court decision, the suspension of this program sends a clear message that states can’t create their own immigration policies.

As much as the conservatives in Arizona want to claim victory, all signs point to a refutation of everything SB 1070 stands for. The United States is supposed to have a national immigration policy, not state-wide laws. As Arizona moves forwards with a toothless SB 1070, we’ll see what happens on the national stage.

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