Immigration Policy as a State Issue?

BY LAINEY SCHMIDT

Immigration March in AZ against SB1070Immigration policy is a controversial topic for all nations.  In the United States, it is especially heated because of the added competition between federal rights and states’ rights.  Though all immigration laws are supposed to be handled through the federal government, a problem arises when states do not feel that the job is being done adequately.

This was exactly the case in Arizona.  On April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law.  This law came after much public talk about the broken immigration policy of the United States and how it affected Arizonans; to address those concerns, the 2010 bill outlined extensive immigration reforms for the state.  Suddenly, it was a state misdemeanor in Arizona for an alien to be without his/her required documents, and widespread penalties were put into place for those who assisted unregistered aliens.  However, the most controversial part of the bill was that that required law enforcement officials to inquire about an individual’s immigration status when there was any suspicion during a routine stop or arrest.  This part of the law drew criticism, as many said it promoted racial profiling.  Critics, rightly so, ask what constitutes reasonable suspicion of an illegal alien if it is not race.  It also was critiqued because it required officers to ask for these papers in any routine stop with suspicion – they did not have a choice, and could get in trouble if they did not investigate.

As the strictest immigration law at the time, Arizona’s SB1070 inspired a host of state policy immigration laws across the country.  Though twenty-four different bills were introduced in different legislatures, only five passed (in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah).  All of these laws contain the same aspects of racial profiling and the authorization of police to demand papers “proving citizenship or immigration status from anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country unlawfully.”  Many cite this as a violation of the 14th amendment, which prohibits unlawful search of property; the government has previously not had the right to demand one’s citizenship or immigration papers without a reason (such as a crime having been committed).

Though Governor Brewer has said it is important to make sure police have adequate training to carry out the law (and thus somehow avoid racial profiling), SB1070 has received criticism even from President Obama.  Stating that the law “threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe,” he still acknowledged that the federal immigration laws need to be addressed and reworked.

These state laws restrict immigrants’ rights to an unreasonable degree, but in order for them to be unnecessary, the federal laws must do an adequate job.  So, yes, we can all admit that an overhaul of current immigration laws is incredibly needed, but the way to do this is not by a patchwork of strict, possibly unconstitutional, restrictions on immigration state-by-state.  When this patchwork effect is in place and our immigration laws are not consistent throughout the country, states are given the power to individually determine their population, and this irregularity serves no purpose.  When minorities are specifically disadvantaged by a certain law that allows for discrimination and profiling based on race and appearance, it is time for the federal government to put together a more coherent policy that addresses the issues that states still face today.No Human

Most interesting is the lack of support Arizona’s SB1070 and similar laws have received.  After Governor Brewer signed the bill into law on April 23, 2010, many Arizonans decided to protest the law, attacking the racial profiling tendencies that the law permitted.  The same has happened in other states, and Arizona’s law was even brought to the Supreme Court in June of 2012.  At that time, the court ruled that three different provisions were unconstitutional because previously enacted federal laws on immigration could override them. This limited the amount of power that officers in the state have to demand one’s paperwork, but kept some of the law on the books, allowing Arizona to have additional immigration laws above and beyond those of the United States.

All in all, in the years since 2010, Arizona’s SB1070 has received increasingly far less attention from the public.  This does not mean it is a nonissue.  Immigration laws is still something that needs to be addressed and reworked at the federal level (though this is clearly proving harder for Obama to get support on), and states such as Arizona still need to find ways to work within the federal system.  Laws that somehow allow for racial profiling and unnecessary discrimination of minorities in the country are unconstitutional, and the fact that some states have put them into place show how much of an overhaul is needed.

 


Lainey Schmidt is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at akschmidt@wustl.edu

 

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