Blue Byline

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Supreme Court’s ruling on divisive law should give feds a wakeup call

Post by Brian O'Neill on April 24, 2012 at 9:56 pm with 13 Comments »
April 26, 2012 7:51 am

You can say one thing for Arizona’s controversial new immigration law. It separates its supporters and critics as easily as a hot knife through butter.

Arizona SB 1070 is headed for a showdown at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. At issue are the four provisions that have been the exclusive privilege of the federal government (at least up until now):

(1) require police to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop if they suspect he or she is undocumented;

(2) make it a state crime for a non-citizen to be without registration papers;

(3) make it illegal for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job; and

(4) authorize police to arrest anyone they believe has committed a deportable offense (Reuters).

Courtesy of

Where to start.

First, notice the verb “require,” used in the first clause, differs from that of the fourth clause, “authorize.” Authorization, as used here, would simply give police officers the option of using a new legal tool if, in their judgment, it would be useful.  A requirement, on the other hand, means that this particular action is mandatory. Police officers would have no choice but to adhere to the policy.

In this contested law the State of Arizona has decreed that police officers may not exercise their discretion when checking the status of a potentially undocumented individual. Forget reason, forget circumstances that might make such a requirement either inconvenient, disruptive, counterproductive or even dangerous. All of that is trumped by the state’s desire to populate its jails with illegal aliens.

Mandatory is not a word that should be tossed around lightly. If Arizona were to travel down this road, it would lead to an infinite number of possible detours all meeting at a singular destination: unintended consequences. Does anyone recall the mandatory expulsion of the kindergarten student who brought a candy gun to school?

In criminal law domestic violence is the sole statute that has a mandatory arrest requirement. Such a policy change was necessary because of the cultural, social and psychological issues that were unaddressed. Mandatory arrests were necessary, in most cases, to stop the cycle of violence. Even so, the mandate has not been helpful in every situation – it is simply better than the alternative.

There is, however, no critical safety issue propelling Arizona’s mandated immigration checks.

For all that, Arizona’s law is not such a bad idea. Because of its location, the state bears a much greater financial burden than those far from the Mexican border: Illegal immigrants and their children fill the schools; they pack emergency rooms; they obtain social services, rental subsidies and many other benefits normally reserved for American citizens. In a law and order state, as Arizona purports itself to be, this this financial drain – not to mention the crime perpetrated by illegal immigrants – would be especially frustrating.

It may not be a bad idea, but it is a bad law. International borders are the purview of the federal government – a fact which the U.S. Supreme Court is now considering.

The immigration law has also divided the nation so effectively that there may be no one left with a neutral view. While proponents of the law point to the financial burdens mentioned above, critics cite the social impact. Most illegal immigrants are not criminals. Many continue to toil at jobs few of us would be willing to perform, for compensation none of us would accept. And let’s not forget who signs their paychecks – American citizens.

At this point we need more reasons to come together as a nation, rather than yet another piece of legislation that will only divide us further.

SB 1070 will have its day in court. The judicial branch will have the final say in whether or not Arizona police officers will be mandated to request documentation from suspected illegal immigrants. The outcome should, by most predictions, reaffirm the notion that the federal government is solely responsible for all matters relating to immigration.

Perhaps the federal government needs this reminder to take its immigration role more seriously. Arizona simply can not continue to absorb the financial and social blows that have resulted from our nation’s porous border.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. Sigh. If the US Government did a better job of protecting our borders, perhaps Arizona wouldn’t feel compelled to do it themselves. If the federal government doesn’t step into cities that offer “sanctuary” to illegals and start arresting people, then haven’t they (the fed) given up control? It works both ways.

    It’s terrific to bad mouth from a thousand miles away. Having lived in Arizona (and Texas, and New Mexico), the problem is overwhelming. To pontificate about the problem from this corner of the country is wrong.

  2. I have to agree with Gandalf. Having been in that part of the country, I can understand the frustration that would cause Arizona to go down this road. The frustration of being caught in the middle.

    Having said that, I am still very uncomfortable with this being mandantory. To take away officer discretion leaves no reaction room. The requirement to carry registration papers sounds a lot worse than it really is and only adds to the emotional fires and knee jerk reactions.

  3. hilltopbarber says:

    Obamas disrespectful and arragont treatment of the justices is going to be the downfall of all his anti american,unconstitutional attacks on our freedom and liberty. Thank God the founding fathers were visionary enough to foresee a time when a sociopath aided by the mainstream media would pervert the office of president to such a degree as the present office holder has. The hope and change was a sham and the true character of the man has come shining thru for all to see.

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    The Obama rant is a little off-topic. I would also point out that you folks are stating your disagreement with the column, despite the fact that you are agreeing with the content. I recommend a re-read, starting with the title.

  5. brett987654321 says:

    This is one of your better articles so far but you barely touched on the most effective thing our country could do to crack down on illegal immigration. It is to come down hard on the employers who hire illegals. Like you said most illegals are only here to make money. Tyson farms and other major US employers actually advertise for employees in Mexico. So we have American corporations practically begging illegals to come up while the federal government spends millions to keep them out. I think the anger at the feds is a little misplaced and should be directed at the private sector instead.

  6. Brian, I agree the Supreme Court review should give the Feds a wake-up call, but will it? I am not hopeful. The Federal Government should be enforcing existing laws, but the laws are ignored – probably because it is a tough and divisive issue and the politicians don’t want to alienate the Hispanic voters. The Political Class is far more interested in keeping their special perks than enforcing the law.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    The Immigration cops with whom I work are constantly frustrated by the intrusion of politics. One colleague was the supervisor of a unit charged with investigating companies which employed a large number of illegal aliens. When he started doing his job too well, Napolitano put him in a time out.

    That’s the way the feds work.

  8. NotPoliticallyCorrect says:

    We don’t need to be worrying about Arizona’s problem. All we have to do is look in our own backyard here in Washington State. Wouldn’t it be great if Gregoire and the legislature came up with another law.

  9. BlaineCGarver says:

    “Politics” is right…..Both sides are balancing the need for reform with the desire for a new voter base….

  10. reformedliberal says:

    The word “mandatory” becomes necessary when law enforcement establishes a pattern of failing to do its job. Brian’s example of domestic violence is quite instructive in that regard.

  11. musingintacoma says:

    Good article Brian. I noticed that you did not address a topic that detractors of the law also cite: racial profiling. I do not support race being a sole factor in law enforcement actions, however in the case of immigration, it is likely to be a factor even if it is not overtly stated as such. With the large number of illegal immigrants being from Mexico, I would expect that a LEO would always play the odds when enforcing Arizona’s law. To level the playing field, the feds could pass a national ID law such that is all state ID cards and DLs would have to be enhanced ones like WA’s and states would have to verify the citizenship of those whose apply for said ID/DLs. The law would not have to go so far as to mandate all persons in the US carry such ID on their person at all times, but being without such ID, when combined with other factors, would be grounds to question a person’s status in the US.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Excellent point, musing. Unfortunately, the ID question is a matter of states’ rights, and Washington State has refused to even require proof of legal status for a basic driver’s license (a requirement for every other state but one). I think that the enhanced ID will eventually happen, but in the meantime Arizona’s issue is creating unpleasant waves.

  13. APimpNamedSlickback says:


    The reason racial profiling wasn’t cited was likely because it’s not an issue with this law, despite what opponents want to believe. SB1070 included specific provisions prohibiting the use of racial profiling.

    I work with law enforcement agencies in Arizona and have had the opportunity to attend some of the 1070 orientation classes that were required after its passage. The only time profiling came up was as a side note that the law specifically prohibited it. It wasn’t a major focus because — as shocking as this may be — Arizona cops aren’t interested in racial profiling to find criminals. They’re far too busy responding to crimes and finding criminals to harass brown people on the off chance that they may be criminals. Racial profiling is a non-issue to them because they’re professionals and that’s just not something they do.

    Add to that, during oral arguments Chief Justice Roberts interrupted the Solicitor General and said “Before you get into what the case is about, I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?”

    The Solicitor General responded: “That’s correct… We’re not making any allegation about racial or ethnic profiling in the case.”

    Remember, the law that SB1070 became is in effect now, and is being enforced. Only the four provisions listed in Brian’s article are being considered by the Court, and those are the only provisions that have been enjoined. Racial profiling is not one of them.

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