Explaining the Latest Federal Ruling on SB 1070: A Mixed Decision

Last week, a federal district court in Phoenix issued a mixed ruling on Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. Immigrant communities declared partial victory with Judge Susan Bolton's decision to strike down the portion of the law that makes it a crime to drive, live with, or engage in everyday activities with an undocumented individual. This means Arizonans of good faith who interact with or provide spiritual support to an undocumented friend or neighbor no longer have to worry about getting slapped with criminal penalties or arrest. Several SB 1070 copycats — including laws in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina — feature similar provisions which have also been blocked by federal courts.

But disappointingly, last week’s ruling failed to block section 2(b) — the “racial profiling” provision. This decision is a disappointing one for Arizonans who believe in freedom, justice, and equal treatment under the law. It also stands to affect tens of thousands in a state where Latinos make up 30% of the population and are now certain to face racial profiling and discrimination when the law goes into effect.

The ruling “will lead to rampant racial profiling of Latinos and others who might be ‘suspected’ of being in Arizona without authorization,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center in a statement the day of the decision. “This isn’t just a blow to our plaintiffs, but also a step back from our core values of equality under the law.”

While the news out of Phoenix all but ensures that law enforcement throughout the state will begin demanding immigration documents, a broad coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups will continue to challenge the "racial profiling" provision — and the rest of SB 1070 — in court. 

“While today's ruling puts civil rights at risk, it does nothing to undermine our resolve to continue fighting until SB 1070 is struck down in its entirety,” added Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Below are some key bullet points how to talk about the ruling and what it means for other states:

  • All people have rights. It's not about what you look like or where you're from that makes you American: it's how you live your life and what you do that defines you in America.Yet SB 1070's worst provision, section 2b, will encouraging police and law enforcement to trample upon those rights. That's not only expensive and impractical, it's un-American.
  • Despite this most recent disappointing ruling, it's important to remember that bit by bit, pieces of SB 1070 keep on getting swatted down by the courts.What's more, they've already been rejected by voters and legislatures across the country.
  • This ruling will not encourage more states to follow Arizona's dubious path: lawmakers know voters want solutions, not rhetoric.
  • After all, the author of SB 1070, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, recently failed yet again to return to office, losing his primary election in August after being forced out of the State Senate last year. It's clear that injustice is not only impractical, it's unpopular.

The ruling in Alabama comes at the tail end of an eventful year in both legislatures and the courts for state immigration policy. Just last month, a federal court struck a strong blow against divisive anti-immigrant provisions in SB 1070 copycat laws in both Georgia and Alabama. And in California, the TRUST Act, a bill that has been called the "anti-Arizona" for its practical, common-sense approach, has been passed by both houses and currently sits at the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. If signed into law, the TRUST Act would ensure law enforcement can maintain truly secure communities in California by prioritizing violent and serious criminals instead of casting a wide, expensive, and counter-productive dragnet — and would also point to a positive way forward on common-sense state immigration policy for the entire nation.

Progressive States Network recently surveyed the progress and setbacks in this year’s state legislative action in our 2012 Immigration Session Roundup, highlighting the decreased popularity of broad anti-immigrant proposals and the growing interest in targeted campaigns to introduce pro-immigrant policies this year in states across the nation.