On July 28, 2010, U.S. District Court judge Susan Bolton blocked the two most controversial parts of an anti-immigration law, known as Arizona SB 2010, one day before the law was about to come into force.
It was argued that immigration was under the jurisdiction of the federal government. However, the Arizona legislation, dominated by the Republican Party, insisted to take immigration into its own hands despite legal challenges over its constitutionality and compliance with civil rights law.
Protests and boycotts were quickly organized by activists in response to the passage of the law. Many opponents of the law say that it would lead to racial profiling and others question civil rights violations the law might potentially cause. Protestors outside the US Embassy in Mexico City broke out in applause and declared it a victory when the decision was announced.
The blocked parts include the freedom of the Arizonan police to demand a person’s residency papers should they suspect him or her to be illegal, and the requirement for all immigrants to carry their immigration papers at all times while in Arizona.
The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhoods Act was signed into law by Arizonan Governor Jan Brewer in April to tackle illegal immigration, which reignited the national debate about the United States immigration policy. Currently, about half a million of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants are thought to reside in Arizona, whose desolate border tracts have over the years provided safe passages for illegal immigrants and drugs from Mexico and Central America flowing into the United States.
US President Barack Obama, along with other human rights groups, heavily criticizes the measure. He states that this law,
“threaten[s] to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”
However, the president has been condemned by Republicans for being slow in tackling illegal immigration since he took office. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential race, lays the blame:
“[If the President could put 6,000 additional security forces at the border,] the Arizona legislature would not have to enact the legislation they have had to do because of the federal government’s failure to carry out its responsibility, which is to secure the border.”
Senator McCain has also called the proposed law a “good tool”.
What the law tried to allow the Arizonan police to do was strikingly similar to racial profiling in Britain. Just last week OBV posted a story about Lord Sentamu speaking out against unequal police stop and search measures. When the police could stop and search someone just because that person is part of a minority community, it is an unequal infringement on the BME community’s rights.
In the United States such a law also raised many eyebrows, especially when it specifically targets people of the Hispanic community. Recent polls from CNN showed that 55% of the people polled said they were in favour of the law, but in a separate question 54% of the people also agreed that it would lead to greater discrimination of Hispanic people. The block of this measure would certainly raise the confidence of the Hispanic community for the Obama administration and encourage more to fight for equality.
Although the block eliminated potential racial profiling, immigration policy remains a hotbed of debate in the United States. The Arizonan Governor Jan Brewer has already launched an appeal against Judge Bolton’s ruling in order to reinstate the original law and it is widely believed that this case is very likely going to end up at the US Supreme Court.
You could read more about the Arizona SB 1070 here.
By Lian Ma