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One of our main takeaways from last week’s Supreme Court hearing on Arizona v. United States was the troubling disconnect between the discussion in the court room and how the law would actually play out on the ground. By insisting that discussion of the law’s effects were off the table, Chief Justice John Roberts ensured that the proceedings lacked acknowledgment of the real world consequences of Arizona’s costly “show me your papers” approach.
As a result, it is heartening to read a new reflection on last week’s Supreme Court hearings from veteran New York Times Supreme Court reporter and legal expert Linda Greenhouse. Unlike the narrow discussion inside the confines of the court, Greenhouse understands the implications of Arizona’s SB1070 law – and the troubling lack of focus on such matters in last week’s hearing.
Poring over the argument transcript and the briefs, what finally came through as most deeply troubling was this: the failure of any participant in the argument, justice or advocate for either side, to affirm the simple humanity of Arizona’s several hundred thousand undocumented residents.
Both facts and logic tell us that this is a varied population. Different reasons, different routes and different times brought these individuals to Arizona. Half the adults among them hold jobs. Many are parents of American-born citizens of the United States. An untold number, while not possessing the right papers, are also not now deportable under our byzantine immigration laws. But whoever they are and whatever their stories, all are now likely to become what Arizona intended them to be when it enacted the law two years ago: hunted.
Under the portions of S.B. 1070 that the lower federal courts have blocked, it is a crime, subject to imprisonment and a fine, for an “unauthorized alien” to seek work, a “criminalization of work” that has no counterpart in federal law. Police officers must determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is “unlawfully present in the United States.” A violation of the federal alien-registration statute is deemed a state criminal offense. Arizona police may arrest, without a warrant, anyone whom they have probable cause to believe has committed “any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.
As the argument proceeded, it was all trees and no forest, the justices toying with first one section and then another…I was reminded of the blind men and the elephant in the old fable. No one saw the statute whole.