The Top 5 Reasons Why S.B. 1070 Damages America

Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law Does More Harm than Good

Alex Lach explains why S.B. 1070 hurts our public safety, institutes racial profiling, and divides our nation.

Supporters of immigration reform rally outsode the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2012, where the court held a hearing on Arizona's S.B. 1070. (AP/ Charles Dharapak)
Supporters of immigration reform rally outsode the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2012, where the court held a hearing on Arizona's S.B. 1070. (AP/ Charles Dharapak)

Today the Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona’s anti-immigration law, S.B. 1070, while allowing Arizona to implement the “papers please” provision that will inevitably lead to racial profiling. Section 2(B) of the law mandates that police check the papers of anyone they suspect is in the country without legal status.

S.B. 1070 and laws like it break apart the fabric of our society, harm our public safety, and most of all, do not solve the problem of a broken immigration system. Here we list the top five reasons why S.B. 1070 damages our country:

1. The law institutionalizes racial profiling

Arizona’s S.B. 1070 compels police to ask for papers from anyone they have a reasonable suspicion of being without status. Under this law any person of color, or anyone with a foreign accent, can be required to prove their status and be jailed—regardless of whether they are a citizen or an immigrant—until they can do so. The Supreme Court indicated that prolonged detention would be impermissible, but people’s rights will likely be violated before that limitation can be enforced.

By targeting certain groups of people living within the state, the Arizona law amounts to an ethnically divisive and deeply hostile social policy. It raises the specter of states treating people differently based solely on their appearance rather than on their actions. Every person in Arizona and states that pass S.B. 1070-like legislation will be required to carry proof of their legal status at all times or face the possibility of being detained. In practice it will be people of color that bear the brunt of these policies.

2. The law compromises public safety and health

Instead of focusing on community safety, law enforcement professionals in Arizona and other states with anti-immigrant laws will be forced to focus more on detaining unauthorized immigrants. As Sgt. Bryan Soller, president of the Mesa, Arizona Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 9, puts it, “If we’re getting hammered with calls, is a misdemeanor [trespassing by an illegal immigrant] more important than a stabbing or shooting? No.” Likewise, immigrants who live in fear of anti-immigrant laws will be afraid to go to the police to report a crime, making all of our communities less safe.

As for public health, in the months after Alabama’s similar immigration law was enacted, health workers in Alabama reported that people are afraid to come to their clinics for flu shots. A key safeguard of public health is a robust immunization program that protects all residents against diseases such as chicken pox, measles, polio, and even the flu. But if parents are afraid to get flu shots for themselves or their children, even though the law technically says that lawful status is not required for immunizations, our whole society is put at risk.

3. S.B. 1070 doesn’t solve illegal immigration

States have no authority to deport immigrants from this country—that power falls solely to the federal government. S.B. 1070’s strategy, therefore, is to make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they “self-deport.” But research shows that anti-immigrant laws don’t cause self-deportation. At best immigrants either leave the state for a friendlier one or go deeper underground. This strategy can have devastating effects on legal and undocumented immigrants and citizens alike, but they don’t result in deporting a single undocumented immigrant.

4. The Supreme Court decision will pit pro-and anti-immigrant states against each other by creating hostile versus welcoming environments for immigrants.

The court’s decision to uphold Section 2(B) of the law not only allows Arizona to implement this racial profiling measure, at least for the time being, but it will by proxy allow the related provisions in anti-immigrant bills that have been put on hold in Georgia, Utah, and South Carolina to go into effect as well. Even more ominous, the Court’s decision could pave the way for states such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi, Virginia, Missouri, and Tennessee, which have flirted with copycat bills, to move forward with similar measures.

It is not a stretch to envision one group of  states effectively ringing themselves with “Keep Out” signs, while other states will extend open arms of welcome. U.S. companies, organizations, citizens, and immigrants will all be forced to make decisions regarding which state they want to live or do business in depending on how restrictive or open that state is to an increasingly diverse population.

5. The policies make the United States less attractive

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Section 2(B) Arizona’s S.B. 1070 makes not just Arizona but the entire country appear considerably more hostile to tourists, foreign investors, and those attempting to immigrate legally. In response to the law’s passage, for example, the government of Mexico issued a travel warning to all Mexican nationals in Arizona, stating that they could be “bothered or questioned without motive at any time.”

Continuing to target foreign nationals may also impede international cooperation on efforts to combat terrorism, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, and human trafficking. And as Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg attested to in his declaration before the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, the Mexican Senate postponed the review of an agreement with the United States on cooperative emergency management of natural disasters, citing the Arizona law as a reason to eschew cross-border work.

Although the Supreme Court narrowly allowed the racial profiling section of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 to stand, Arizona’s law is not and should not be the end of a discussion over how to fix our nations’ immigration system. Instead of 50 state laws, Congress must come together to pass a national immigration reform policy that rejects racial bigotry, that is realistic and serves our nation’s best interest.

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Alex Lach

Assistant Editor