Updated: June 25, 2012 at 12:00 am
Regular Gazette readers have heard it countless times: It is not a crime to be in the United States illegally. It is a federal civil infraction for which one should not be arrested. In a country with civil and criminal laws, the term “illegal” does not always mean “crime.”
It appears the Supreme Court of the United States concurs. In a divided decision, the court ruled that Arizona law enforcers may not arrest people on immigration charges. The court also ruled that Arizona may not require all immigrants to obtain and carry immigration registration papers or arrest illegal immigrants who seek employment or hold jobs.
The court allowed Arizona to continue checking the immigration status of people who are detained on suspicion of other crimes or infractions.
The ruling has sweeping ramifications, as five other states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — have adopted laws similar to Arizona’s.
No one should be surprised that a state cannot arrest someone who is suspected of a mere infraction of civil code. Besides, we are a country that respects separation of powers. Local cops should not regulate immigration any more than immigration officials should enforce traffic laws.
Though state and local police will not be allowed to make immigration arrests, the court will allow them to check immigration status. President Obama objects to that portion of the decision, and we wonder why. After all, Obama has deported illegal immigrants more aggressively than any president in history. Yet, five months before the election, he is amazingly pro immigrant.
“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Obama said.
We concur 100 percent. All persons on American soil enjoy a presumption of innocence. In Terry v. Ohio (1968), our Supreme Court determined that freedom depends on individuals being free from detention or interrogation unless authorities have reasonable suspicion of a crime based on “specific and articulable facts.” We fear that authorities may ask for immigration documentation only from people who look foreign, which could include millions of dark-skinned Americans and could exclude from scrutiny those immigrants from Canada and Europe. No person should have to answer to a cop because his or her skin is dark.
This country has a porous border that needs to be controlled. Our federal immigration policies are laughable and in need of major reform. We cannot change these facts by violating the rights of individuals in states that struggle with the federal government’s failure to fix immigration. Our country is founded on the rights of individuals, not on immigration control. We applaud the Supreme Court for taming a law that challenged our most fundamental protections from authority.
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