We are waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will uphold Arizona’s controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070. This law contains a provision requiring law enforcement officials to inquire about the immigration status of any person they stop or arrest if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the United States unlawfully. Based on recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court, we expect this provision of the law to be upheld. Other states are likely to follow Arizona’s lead with copycat laws modeled after S.B. 1070.
S.B. 1070 will carry significant social and economic costs to Arizona. Beyond the visible issues that will flow from a new form of racial profiling, S.B. 1070 places an undue burden on law enforcement officers. Instead of focusing their efforts on public security, police officers will be distracted by needing to determine a person’s immigration status during an otherwise routine traffic stop. In states along the U.S.-Mexican border, lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens will be detained over mistakes by police officers. The law will have a disproportionate impact on lawfully present immigrants who suffer because of a mistake in a government database. The lack of any parameters for how to define a “reasonable suspicion” and the extent to which racism will factor into how this standard is applied are troubling.
No single state law is adequate to address the complex issues that stem from illegal immigration. But expanding police powers and creating a subjective standard for enforcement are not solutions. While S.B. 1070 will have social and economic costs to Arizona, any benefits from the law are unclear. We will continue to monitor and report developments on this front as we await the Court’s decision.