All eyes will be on the Supreme Court when it hears arguments on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, S.B. 1070, on Wednesday. S.B. 1070 goes far beyond federal law on immigration enforcement, making it a crime to be without legal status in the state and authorizing police to check the status of anyone they suspect to be in the country illegally.
The Court’s decision will determine whether the United States speaks with one voice on immigration or with 50 voices, and whether the nation will have a patchwork of state-level immigration laws—whereby some states welcome immigrants and some states reject them—or whether there will be one uniform immigration policy across the country.
Laws like S.B. 1070 will never fix our nation’s broken immigration system. Here are the three main reasons why these state-level anti-immigrant bills don’t solve the problem:
1. Unauthorized immigrants aren’t actually aliens—they look like everyone else. Arizona’s S.B. 1070 compels police to ask for papers from anyone they have a reasonable suspicion of being without status. But how can you tell who has the right papers? Under these laws any person of color, or anyone with a foreign accent, can be required to prove their status, and can be jailed—regardless of whether they are a citizen or an immigrant—until they can do so.
2. States can’t deport immigrants. Only the federal government has the power to remove immigrants from the country. All that states like Arizona can do is try to make life as difficult as possible for immigrants living in the state, in the hopes that they will “self-deport”—a strategy known as “attrition through enforcement.” Laws like S.B. 1070 can wreak havoc on every state citizen, but they don’t result in deporting a single undocumented immigrant.
3. Unauthorized immigrants don’t leave the country, even in the face of harsh anti-immigrant laws. 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. Why don’t they “go home”? Because they are home. Two-thirds of undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for more than 10 years, nearly half are part of families, and across the country nearly 17 million people live with an undocumented person. Laws like S.B. 1070 ignore reality.
Instead of 50 state laws, Congress must come together to pass a national immigration reform policy that’s realistic and serves our nation’s best interest.