The Supreme Court surprised me this morning by ruling that Arizona lawmakers had overstepped their bounds when trying to pass immigration legislation known as SB 1070, reinforcing that the Constitution provides that immigrations laws are only to be made by the federal government, not the states.
The bad news is this — the most controversial provision of the law, the “show me your papers” provision was upheld, meaning that if you’re a person of color in Arizona, you’d better hope that you don’t get pulled over for doing 36 in a 35 mile per hour zone. Because if you do, the police will still legally be able to ask to see your “documents” right then, right there. And if you don’t have the right ones, the deportation process can begin immediately.
How this provision doesn’t fall into the category of immigration laws to the Supreme Court Justices is beyond me. The Court wrote that as long as the law isn’t enforced in a way that amounts to racial profiling, it can stand for the time being. But does anyone really believe that if a white person is pulled over for a traffic violation in Tucson that they’re going to be asked for a passport or green card? I think not.
“Show me your papers” could eventually be overturned, but for now it’s probably a good idea for everyone to make sure they comply with all traffic laws in Arizona. But the majority’s ruling isn’t sitting at all well with Justice Antonin Scalia, the justice who likes to invoke the plain language of the Constitution, except when it doesn’t suit his own purposes. In his dissent, it’s clear that he made time to add last-minute language to attack President Obama’s recent executive order that would stop the deportation of children of undocumented immigrants:
“Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem. Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem,and indeed have recently shown that they are unwilling to do so. Thousands of Arizona’s estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants—including not just children but men and women under 30—are now assured immunity from enforcement, and will be able to compete openly with Arizona citizens for employment.”
I wonder how Justice Scalia would feel if we were still living in a time when people thought about his Sicilian immigrant ancestors the way he seems to feel about Mexican immigrants in Arizona? As someone who is a first generation American, I’d expect a little more empathy from Scalia. As I would from Justice Alito, who said at his own Senate confirmation hearing that as descendant of Italian immigrants, he would probably give consideration to what his own ancestors had gone through as they came to America, including his grandparents. I guess maybe they weren’t on his mind, either, as the Court let “show me your papers” stand.