Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, and much of the media have something in common. They both got the Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, wrong. In Brewer’s statement to the press, she asserted that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the heart of the law in Monday’s decision.
Not so, said Lawrence O’Donnell, on his show ‘The Last Word’. Section 2 of the law may have been the only part left standing, at least for now, but Section 6 was the statute’s heart and soul, he stated. Following is a video of the segment:
According to the Supreme Court’s syllabus (or summary) of the law—released at the same time as the ruling—SB 1070’s Section 6 created an obstacle to federal law “by authorizing state and local officers to make warrantless arrests of certain aliens suspected of being removable.” Furthermore, the decision clarified that “as a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain in the United States. The federal scheme instructs when it is appropriate to arrest an alien during the removal process.” In other words, the presence of an alien is a civil matter, not a criminal one, and guidelines for dealing with the situation are up to the federal government.
Not only did Brewer try to rewrite the Supreme Court’s intent in glowing terms, but most news outlets got it wrong, too. The more conservative ones invariably touted the decision as a win for Arizona and Jan Brewer, whereas The Huffington Post headline appropriately read, “Arizona Immigration Law Gutted”. As O’Donnell put it, “Section 6 was ripped up and thrown away by the court because it empowered Arizona cops to stop anyone they chose, at any time, to check their legal status in this country.”
Section 2, the only part of the law left standing, allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status during lawful stops. It remains law solely because it has not yet been implemented. The Supreme Court practically sent out an invitation for Section 2 to be challenged once that implementation takes place. As O’Donnell stated, as soon as a check of someone’s immigration status is run by Arizona law enforcement officers, “an army of lawyers is ready to take the case back” to the Supreme Court. The challenge will center around the potential for racial or ethnic profiling.
There is an agreement in high places. In the assessment of New York Senator Chuck Schumer, “The court is sending a stern warning to Arizona that the provision allowing local law enforcement to check people’s immigration documents can not be implemented in a discriminatory or draconian way, or it will be thrown out like the rest of the law.”
Even with that section remaining, Arizona’s legislation has changed absolutely nothing for the rest of the country. A federal law passed in 1996 by a bipartisan majority, and signed by President Clinton, already granted local law enforcement the right to check the immigration status of anyone they detain for any legal reason. The law reads, in part, that, “No state or local government entity may be prohibited or in any way restricted from sending to or receiving from [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] information regarding the immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of an alien in the United States.”
So where’s the win, Jan Brewer? It’s pretty clear—you and the State of Arizona lost on this one!
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