This is the new law in Arizona: The police is allowed to determine immigration status if they have a reasonable suspicion of unlawful status.Now picture this:

You are a Hispanic male living in Arizona and an American Citizen. Your friend lent you his car so that you can take your girlfriend to the doctor. Suddenly you see flashing lights and hear a siren. An officer pulls you over and advises you that the insurance was suspended on the car. You explain that you have the insurance card but you left the house without your driver’s license.

The officer had a reason to suspect that a law was being broken, even if he was wrong, i.e., driving a car without insurance. This is what the officer has before him or her: a Hispanic male speaking with an accent and without identification on him. Is that enough to arrest you on the suspicion of unlawful status? If not, what is reasonable suspicion?

On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court issued a mixed ruling in the Obama administration’s challenge to Arizona SB 1070. By a 5-3 margin, the Justices upheld the injunction against provisions of the law that authorize police to:

  • arrest immigrants suspected of committing removable offenses (Section 6),
  • impose penalties under state law for immigrants who fail to carry registration papers (Section 3),
  • impose penalties under state law for immigrants who attempt to work without federal authorization (Section 5).

Although the Court allowed the implementation of the provision of SB 1070 allowing police to determine the immigration status of people in custody whereby reasonable suspicion exists that they are in the country unlawfully (Section 2(B)). This decision leaves the door open to future legal challenges.

More importantly, however, is the fact that the Court did not find that the provision was immune from legal challenge. Instead, the majority found the injunction was premature because it was unclear how the provision would be applied in practice. Indeed, the Court specifically stated that the opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.

Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement advised, I remain concerned about the impact of Section 2, which requires law enforcement officials to verify the immigration status of any person lawfully stopped or detained when they have reason to suspect the person is here unlawfully. . . I want to assure communities around this county that the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously enforce federal prohibition against racial and ethnic discrimination.

How is it possible to prohibit racial and ethnic discrimination when the law was created to alleviate the problem of illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic and in large numbers? Does the State Police of Arizona and local officers intend on stopping every ethnic driver who looks Hispanic? Not only is that racial profiling and prejudice, but it can also increase the number of hours officers are on patrol.

President Obama stated, I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally. I agree with the Court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like. Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the Court’s decision recognizes. Furthermore, we will continue to enforce our immigration laws by focusing on our most important priorities like border security and criminals who endanger our communities, and not, for example, students who earn their education which is why the Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this month that it will lift the shadow of deportation from young people who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own.

Only time will tell how this and similar laws will be implemented.