Civil rights advocates and black lawmakers praised Monday’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down key provisions of Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law but expressed fears that the justice’s decision that upheld a provision that requires police to check the status of people who might be in the country illegally will spur an increase in racial profiling nationwide.
“By upholding the ‘show me your papers’ provision of the Arizona Law, this court (is) in essence permitting and encouraging the discriminatory and denigrating practice of racial profiling by law enforcement officials,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement released after Monday’s ruling. “Make no mistake, the notion that states may racially profile, harass and detain approximately 11 million hard-working undocumented immigrants and others that simply meet the physical profile are founded on a profoundly backward interpretation of equality and civil rights.”
In a complex ruling, the court determined that portions of the law that required immigrants to carry papers on them at all times and that gave local law enforcement the power to arrests immigrants without warrants if they believed they committed deportable crimes exceeded the authority of the state.
However, the court unanimously upheld the so-called “show me your papers” provision which permits local law enforcement officers check the immigration status of people they stop, even for minor infractions like jaywalking.
The NAACP’s Jealous, Hispanic organizations, and others believe keeping that provision potentially opens the floodgates for racial profiling. Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said “when local police can stop and detain anyone they perceive as ‘foreign’ because of their skin color, their accent or their surname, it is a watershed moment for civil rights.”
The nonpartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors said it “will compromise the ability of our local police departments to maintain public safety and jeopardize the relationship, which they have carefully built with immigrant communities.”
“It will require police officers to spend more time and resources investigating immigration status, leaving them less time and fewer resources to investigate serious crimes,” the organization said in a statement. “The challenge for mayors and their police departments is to minimize harm and assure immigrant communities that they will not engage in racial or ethnic profiling.”
“This law blatantly encourages discrimination against all people of color and other immigrants—including those who have been American citizens all their lives—and violates basic rights of human beings,” added Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “It is also painfully reminiscent of the struggle many African Americans faced during the 1800s in proving their ‘freedmen status’ and the struggle Black South Africans endured during Apartheid with their 'passbooks’. It is hard to understand how any aspect of this anti-immigrant law could ever be seen as constitutional.”
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who faces a tough re-election fight Tuesday, called the court’s action on the provision “a grave error” that needs to be legally corrected.
“I hope that in stating that additional review is needed, the Supreme Court will eventually make the right decision as they look into this blatantly biased stipulation of an already unpopular bill that promises to promote public unrest within Arizona and the Latino community as a whole,” he said.