News And Politics

What does the SB 1070 ruling mean for South LA?

June 25, 2012, 12:15 p.m.

A picketer opposes SB 1070 at an Arizona protest in May 2010. (Xomiele/Flickr Creative Commons)

Most of Arizona's controversial immigration law known as SB 1070 was struck down Monday morning by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But one of the four provisions in question was upheld, though narrowly: the authorization of local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they encounter in a lawful stop, arrest or detention if there is "reasonable suspicion" that she or he is in the country illegally.

Kathleen Kim, a professor of law at Loyola Law School who specializes in immigration and immigrants' rights, told OnCentral in April that the outcome of the Supreme Court case on SB 1070 would set a precedent.

"If the Supreme Court overturns the decision of the Ninth Circuit and finds that SB 1070 is constitutional, or even makes a compromise decision and finds some of its more controversial provisions are constitutional, I think it sends a signal to the rest of the states that this kind of comprehensive immigration enforcement bill would be permissible," she said.

An immigration enforcement law like that would have no small impact on South Los Angeles – in 2000, city census data showed that more than 40 percent of folks in Council District 9 were undocumented. (That was the latest year for which data was available.) That's more than 92,000 people, and census data shows that between 2000 and 2010, CD9 grew by more than 23,000 people.

But Niels Frenzen, a clinical professor of law at USC who specializes in immigration, says the ruling "has nothing to do with South L.A." – at least for now.

"It does not have a direct impact and is unlikely to have any direct impact anytime in the near future, frankly," he said. "This is a Supreme Court decision addressing a state law in Arizona."

He said it could end up setting a precedent for similar immigration enforcement legislation, but noted that the political differences between California and Arizona are big ones.

"The politics in California on this issue are very different than the politics in Arizona right now," said Frenzen. "So I certainly think it's possible – perhaps likely – that we'll see some similar provisions" in other places. But as far as the Golden State, the professor said that in some respects, "we've had our immigration battle."

He was referring to Proposition 187, which voters passed in California in 1994. Prop 187 sought to bar undocumented immigrants from using health care, the education system and other state social services. Four years later, a federal court found the legislation unconstitutional.

"The Republican party learned some hard lessons as they offended a lot of people, including Latino voters, with that," said Frenzen. "So, given the politics in California, I don't think we're going to see anything like [SB 1070]. It certainly could happen, but I don't think it's likely."

In an interview after the ruling was announced, Kim said "the whole Arizona law is a racial profiling law."

"I think overall, the ruling is more positive in terms of protection for immigrants since the Supreme Court did find three of the provisions unconstitutional," she said, adding that the primary issue now is the remaining provision that was upheld.

"That's probably the one that will pose the greatest challenge for South L.A. and other states and localities that might contemplate adopting such a measure for their own region," said Kim, because it allows and encourages offices to make "a calculation most often based on race." States that want to implement a provision like this, she added, would "have this decision somewhat on their side."

Kim said the Supreme Court's decision, while "overall more positive," was narrow "in the sense that it was not entertaining other issues regarding racial profiling," which is what many civil rights organizations are focusing on in their lawsuits against the SB 1070. Now it remains to be seen how the provision will play out in Arizona and whether racial profiling will manifest; Kim says it certainly will. But she also echoed Frenzen regarding the difference between California and Arizona politics.

"L.A. has a history of being more on the protection end of things, with respect to immigrants," she said, referring to Special Order #40. "It has more of a history of separating local law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement activity, so I don't know that we would see such a provision adopted in Los Angeles in the foreseeable future."

Still, Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), says the ruling is still problematic.

"Ultimately, we're sending a very scary message to the immigrant community," said Salas," and that is that local law enforcement can actually act as [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents. And what that means for the rest of South L.A. or L.A. in general is that a whole group of people will be further fearful of their interaction with police."

Salas applauded the Supreme Court's striking down three of the four SB 1070 provisions in question, saying it "enforced the idea that the federal government has to take action on issues of immigration."

"We're very concerned that those components would give free rein to states like Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, some of the places where we've actually seen some punitive legislation," she said. "So we're happy that got reined in and that it sends back the question of immigration to the federal government."

Salas hopes the fact that those three provisions were struck down will give "more impetus to Congress and to our president to take action this year and beyond." As for the remaining provision that was upheld, she's worried – in part because of the "scary message" it sends, and in part because she's unsure if law enforcement in, say, California, will understand that SB 1070 is only "the law of the land" in Arizona.

"It creates confusion on the ground," she said. "You have rogue officers and rogue municipalities who believe they have a right to do this. But California would have to engage in a formative process to codify a similar law." As of now, it hasn't done that.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced he would no longer deport young undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements.

Photo by Xomiele via Flickr Creative Commons.

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