Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Frustration on the Arizona anti-Latino law

This is frustrating to see. The Obama administration did file suit against implementation of the stop-and-search-the-brown-people law before it formally takes effect at the end of this month. But when they did, according to James Doty in The president who won't call racism racism Salon 07/07/2010, they presented a legal argument that may wind up producing a court decision that leaves the racial-harassment provisions of the law intact! He writes:

The government's complaint in the Arizona case, which challenges the law commonly referred to as SB 1070, asserts repeatedly that the law frustrates the federal government's ability to implement national immigration policy. (In legal parlance, the argument is that federal immigration law "preempts" state statutory enactments.) Entirely absent from the government's argument, though, is any claim that the law encourages officers to racially profile Hispanic residents and violate their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches -- the aspects of the law that many people find the most objectionable.

That’s surprising, because a preemption argument is unlikely to fell the most controversial provision of the law: the requirement that officers investigate the immigration status of any person they reasonably suspect is in the country illegally. The government's lawsuit argues that this mandate impermissibly burdens the federal bureaucracy, but it's hardly intuitive that verifying immigration status with federal officials would thwart the goals or policies of the feds. (To the contrary, federal law specifically authorizes state officers to verify immigration status with the federal government.) In contrast, the notion that that the law foists raced-based decisions on law enforcement officers offers both a more compelling storyline and firmer legal ground.
In legal and moral terms, this is just the wrong approach. In political terms, this is starting to look like yet another instance where Obama and the Democrats are handed a golden opportunity - in this case to shift major numbers of Latino voters to the Democrats and also to challenge the Republicans' toxic narrative on race-related issues - and the Dems trying hard to blow it. Fortunately, as Doty mentions in his article, the ACLU is mounting a legal challenge to those sections of the law.

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