On Monday April 23rd, the Supreme Court will begin to hear oral arguments in a landmark case, State of Arizona v. United States, which challenges the authority of a state to enact its own immigration enforcement laws instead of following federal regulations. On the surface, this case is about a state usurping a federal power. Underneath the surface it is about a lot more.
At the heart of the Arizona legislation are some dangerous provisions that we had hoped to be done with in this country—at least legally, if not in practice as many of us know. A key provision requires any law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped or detained, regardless of how trivial the infraction, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person may be in the country illegally (Section 2B). Reasonable suspicion, one can just as reasonably assume, may be triggered by dark skin, short stature, or poor English language skills. If a person fails to yield the right of way, she or he can be assumed to be an illegal alien and arrested, if the person has no identification other than a driver’s license. Under similar circumstances, most people would receive merely a citation. Persons who “look Latina/o” and have no immigration papers will go to jail. It is also a crime, under Arizona law, for people who fail to carry their “alien registration document” (Section 5C). One could be justified in thinking that Arizona has legalized racial profiling. Similar, if not more insidious laws have been enacted by other states, such as Utah, Alabama and South Carolina.
A person can come to think she fell asleep and woke up back in the 1950s. No one would be surprised to learn that we have not eradicated racism, but many of us did believe that we had at least pretended to have moved beyond its most blatant manifestations. It is not a childish naïveté to believe that as a nation we had surpassed certain prejudices. And I am here making a strong differentiation between what’s legal and what is common practice. AZ SB 1070 and the copycat legislation that followed in other states shattered that illusion.
Most Americans will assume that SB 1070 is an immigration case, which of course it is. But it is also much more than that. If the Supreme Court upholds Arizona, it will de facto uphold racial profiling. There is a wide divide between what is moral and what is legal. Many of us know that at times wrong is as common as right is rare. But to make wrong legal is tragic. Pray for the Court.
The United Church of Christ has more than 5,277 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.