The United States Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments this week in the case Arizona v. United States. At issue is Arizona’s anti-immigration law, known as S. B. 1070, which requires police officers to ascertain the legal status of those they suspect of being in the U.S. illegally.
There are a variety of legal reasons why the Court can and should strike down the law. For obvious reasons, immigration policy is a federal, not a state, issue. If Arizona can find legal justification for police action that effectively creates a second juridical border, what is to keep California from pulling down the barriers that exist along its border with Mexico? Federal immigration law is enough of a mess without further complicating the issue by permitting all fifty states to enact their own separate provisions.
Additionally, S. B. 1070 is impossible to enforce without burdening the rights of citizens who happen to be Latino. The law, and those like it that have been adopted in Alabama and Louisiana, contains a provision that prohibits racial profiling but includes no criteria for evaluating police conduct in this regard. Arthur Hunter Jr., a judge in the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in Louisiana, has an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post that examines this problem. He writes:
You do not have to be concerned about immigrants, only about the Constitution, to recognize the difficulty, and the danger, of permitting law enforcement agents to justify their actions with the single word “because.”
In their magnificent amicus curiae brief, joining the Obama administration’s argument against the Arizona law, the USCCB focused on the ways these state laws obstruct two of the primary goals of federal immigration policy. The brief states:
It is especially incumbent upon our friends on the right to vocally oppose the Arizona law, and even more so its Alabama stepchild because, as the USCCB brief makes clear, there are issues of religious liberty at stake here. If there is a “war on religion” in this country, it is wise to recognize that the assaults come from all sides and that both parties should be called to task when they brush aside the practices of the Catholic community in pursuit of their policy objectives. It is as insidious, actually I think more insidious, to demand that the Catholic Church cease helping immigrants, as it is to require our insurance policies to become vehicles for the provision of contraception, is it not?
The Arizona law, and the other anti-immigrant laws it spawned, worry me at a deeper level than my concerns for the Constitution. There is a mean-spiritedness abroad in the land, always eager for a scapegoat, quick to denounce those with whom they disagree as “the other” and “un-American,” convinced that our nation’s social safety net must be made less secure in the interest of reducing the federal deficit while demanding no commensurate sacrifice from the wealthy. Ours is a culture in which the culture has taken the word “loser” and applied it to human beings who are not rich enough, or pretty enough, or buff enough, or Anglo enough, in direct contradiction of the most fundamental of Catholic moral principles: every person matters. The Church must do everything in its power to combat this mean-spiritedness and the bishops’ principled opposition to the Arizona law is evidence of such a willingness to combat it.