But the ruling has not ended the struggle for civil rights in immigrant communities, or the fear on the ground, especially among Latinos. Far from it. It poses serious challenges to the Obama administration, responsible law-enforcement officials and immigrant advocates to keep up efforts to limit the damage when legislatures and police officers — not just in Arizona — run amok.
The court did not strike down Section 2(B) of the law, which requires police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop and suspect are here illegally. “There is basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced,” the court ruled, saying there was no reason — yet — to assume that officers who enforce that part of the law will do so in an unconstitutional way.
The wait-and-see stance ignores the harsh reality of life in Arizona, where unlawful arrests and racial profiling are the aim of the state’s poisoned immigration politics.
For years, law officers like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County have built their reputations on the harassment and humiliation of Latinos, through neighborhood sweeps and mass arrests, targeting people who fit a profile — speaking Spanish, wearing certain clothes or shoes or behaving in a furtive manner. The sheriff’s actions have led to countless civil-rights complaints, a federal investigation and lawsuits. A suit by the American Civil Liberties Union goes to court this month. A civil-rights challenge to the Arizona law continues in federal court as well.
The fatal flaw in “papers, please” laws is that racial profiling is built in. It is impossible for an officer to know what an illegal immigrant looks like, or to reach conclusions about immigration status without discriminating based on how someone speaks or looks. The court all but invited challenges to Section 2(B) on those grounds when it goes into effect, which may be as early as this month.
The Obama administration needn’t wait to sever ties with Arizona’s immigration enforcers, ending the programs that make local officers immigration deputies. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — an Arizonan who was an early enabler of Sheriff Arpaio — can do a lot to make sure that the noxious intent of Arizona’s law is reversed on the ground, where the pain and injustice of profiling are most keenly felt.