On July 6, the Justice Department filed suit against Arizona’s SB 1070, a controversial law scheduled to go into effect on July 29. The Arizona law would require immigrants to have their documents on them at all times and would allow officers to ask for papers if they have reasonable suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally. Opponents of the law have argued that the law will promote racial profiling.
In its suit, the Justice Department stated that the Arizona law unconstitutionally oversteps on federal authority to enforce immigration laws.
This spotlights an issue that has been on lawmakers’ minds since the days of the Founding Fathers. What is the right balance of power between the states and federal government?
Experts are divided on the validity of the Justice Department’s claim. According to the Wall Street Journal, Peter Spiro, a constitutional law professor at Temple Law, said that the lawsuit isn’t a “slam dunk for the federal government by a long shot,” partly because “nothing in the Constitution says anything about immigration.” But Spiro also points out that “immigration has traditionally and constitutionally been the historic preserve of the federal government, and there are cases going back to the late 19th century that say as much.” Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who helped draft the Arizona law, has said that the Arizona state law is only prohibiting what is already illegal under federal law.
However, there is a precedence. According to The Associated Press, in 2008 a federal judge struck down an ordinance in a Dallas suburb that banned apartment rentals to illegal immigrants, stating that enforcement of immigration laws falls under the authority of the U.S. government.
This suit is undoubtedly a huge political risk for President Barack Obama that could cost him re-election.
Last month, a national poll from Quinnipiac University showed that most Americans generally support the Arizona law and think that the focus needs to be on stricter enforcement of immigration laws. In dealing with the Constitution, however, popular opinion doesn’t always prevail. If the Arizona law is struck down, it will hopefully deter other states from adopting similar laws.
Though we empathize with many immigrant and human rights groups who have come up in support of the suit, we ultimately hope for a quick resolution. After months of the White House’s attention diverted elsewhere, the president finally publicly urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform last week. Some analysts have said that the suit will divert attention and resources away from reform. We hope this doesn’t turn out to be the case.
Generally, we agree with the steps the Justice Department has taken. We do understand that Arizona is in a tough spot, being a border state, but SB 1070 isn’t the answer. To think that it won’t lead to an increase in racial profiling and harassment of Latinos who are American citizens is unrealistic. Though opponents of the suit have said that Arizona is only doing what the federal-level laws have failed to do, it does not mean that it is within the state’s right to usurp federal authority. ♦