Washington, D.C. –– On Monday, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center, joined by 105 local and national civil rights and faith groups, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that Arizona’s S.B. 1070, an anti-immigration bill, and copycat bills passed in other states, fundamentally conflict with federal law and would have an unprecedented negative impact on the lives of American citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as many others living in the U.S. legally. Recounting real-life examples, the brief documents how law-abiding Americans, particularly minorities, will now be subject to constant scrutiny, lengthy detentions, and false arrests. The brief also lays bare the fallacy underlying Arizona’s “papers please” approach: that law enforcement officers can readily determine a person’s status by simply reviewing the person’s documents or calling the federal government on the telephone.
Citing the story of a lifelong Arizonan of Spanish and Chinese ancestry named Jim Shee, who has lived under S.B. 1070, the brief opens with his cautionary tale of what would happen to Americans across the country if laws like S.B. 1070 are permitted to stand:
Mr. Shee was stopped for no apparent reason and questioned by a Phoenix police officer, who demanded to see his “papers.” He was not given a citation. A similar sequence played out again in Yuma a mere ten days later.
Mr. Shee’s experiences indicate the harm that the “stop and verify” provision will inflict on U.S. citizens. In Arizona, the Department of Public Safety makes well over 500,000 stops per year. The vast majority of stops are for minor traffic or equipment violations. As in Mr. Shee’s case, over ninety-eight percent do not result in arrest. S.B. 1070 will transform these routine traffic stops into mini-trials where detained citizens bear the burden of proving their status. (Pg. 5)
Building on Mr. Shee’s story and others, the brief illustrates how these laws will especially harm racial and ethnic minorities, stating that:
People of color in Arizona are far more likely to be stopped by police than are their white counterparts. In Maricopa County—by far Arizona’s largest—Latino drivers are over four times more likely to be stopped than similarly situated non-Latino drivers…
…in the vast run of cases, racial and ethnic perceptions will spawn the “reasonable suspicion” that Section 2(B) requires before an officer may further detain an individual…Perhaps in recognition of this inherent defect, Petitioners do not even attempt to articulate the content of Section 2(B)’s “reasonable suspicion” requirement. (Pg. 12, 13)
The brief shows how these laws fundamentally misconstrue the complexity of the federal immigration system by criminalizing people whom Congress has chosen to protect, including asylum seekers and victims of domestic violence. These laws presume the existence of documents that many people simply do not have, and thereby would expose them to arrest and criminal punishment. The brief also notes the unique situations of “DREAMers,” i.e. those who have called the United States home for most of their lives, and who are not subject to criminal penalties under federal law, but who would be criminalized under S.B. 1070.
Finally, the brief describes Arizona’s track record of civil rights abuses and exposes the state’s legal arguments for what they are: post-enactment attempts to rewrite and rationalize S.B. 1070 to enable it to survive Supreme Court review. Pointing to the Arizona Legislature’s stated strategy of “attrition through enforcement” and the deplorable civil rights record of notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the brief lays bare Arizona’s hollow promise to “cooperate” with the federal government.
“S.B. 1070 and its copycats turn American justice on its head,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “These laws presume everyone is guilty, contradicting the fundamental American presumption that those accused are innocent until proven otherwise. Too many of us already know what that’s like. And we know the damage that racial profiling does – not only to us as individuals, but to entire communities.”
Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center summed up the arguments presented by the groups in the following way: “The bottom line is that these laws are blatantly unconstitutional and have wreaked havoc for citizens and non-citizens alike in the states where they have, even in a very limited way, gone into effect.”
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information on the Southern Poverty Law Center, visit www.splcenter.org.