Three years ago, the tea party movement erupted and became the talk of the nation. It’s hard to precisely determine what drove this convulsion; some elements were clearly libertarian, others were composed of people nervous about what they called Obamacare, and still others were just afraid of the Great Recession.
One element, however, was unmistakable: nativists who feared the nation was being overrun by illegal immigrants who come here to receive social benefits.
In 2010, the Arizona state Legislature succumbed to the darkest fears of the state’s anti-illegal immigration voters and passed SB 1070, a law designed to curtail illegal immigration. In truth, the law gave such sweeping powers to law enforcement officers, with such an obvious mandate to use them against poor Mexican and Salvadoran residents, that future generations will look on it and shake their heads.
Arizona’s law consisted of four major parts:
• All legal immigrants must register with the federal government and carry papers attesting that they are here legally at all times.
• Any illegal immigrant who applies for a job is guilty of a criminal offense.
• State and local law enforcement officials have the power to detain anyone they think may be in the United States illegally.
• Police officers who stop residents for any reason must check the citizenship or immigration status of the subjects.
The law was born of fear and paranoia. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that almost all of its provisions violate the Constitution.
Police officers who pull over motorists or detain residents on suspicion of other crimes must still check to see whether they are living in the United States legally. This is the most controversial section of the law, nakedly intended to intimidate Hispanic residents. The court decided to keep this provision on the books — but Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that if the law is applied in a manner that discriminates against Hispanics, he and his colleagues would be open to hearing a new challenge.
As for the rest of the law — that immigrants must report to suspicious bureaucrats, that illegal immigrants can go to jail if they dare to work for a living and that cops can grab anyone they imagine might not be here legally — the court threw it all out. That it did so on the basis that Arizona was usurping powers reserved for the federal government is immaterial. These racist, undemocratic laws are gone.
Not everyone is pleased with the ruling.
“If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign state,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in a dissent.
But it’s not just states that are sovereign in our republic. Citizens are sovereign as well, and they have the right to walk the streets unmolested by police officers who demand to see proof they live here legally. Whatever rationale the court offered to retain this right, and however Scalia may despise it, we still enjoy it — even in Arizona.
President Barack Obama summed it up best in the statement he gave after the ruling: “No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”