A matter of discretion in immigration reform and Arizona law
Arguments made in Wednesday's Supreme Court hearing on the Arizona immigration law get to the heart of the national debate: How much discretion to give to police and prosecutors?
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And the administration also worries about potential police harassment of Hispanics. “You have a population in Arizona of 2 million Latinos, of whom only 400,000 at most are there unlawfully,” Mr. Verrilli told the court, even as he claimed the case was not really about racial profiling.Skip to next paragraph
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But, countered Chief Justice John Roberts, “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally or not,” even though it is required under law to respond to immigration inquires from state officials.
“You can see,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Verrilli, your argument “is not selling very well.”
The high court will make its ruling by the end of June. Whichever way the decision goes, it could be a political bombshell during a campaign already focused in part on illegal immigration.
One focus is the proposed DREAM Act. That bill in Congress would offer a path to legal residency only for young people who have entered the US illegally with their parents – again, a partial leniency.
Both judges and lawmakers have a hard time deciding the level of discretion for dealing with the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the US. Elections, like court rulings, can bring some national consensus. So can hard facts, like a recent decline in illegals, which indicates some “self deportation.”
Giving discretion to both police and prosecutors can result in abuse, not just of immigrants, but of the law and public support for it. Yet such discretion is also sometimes an effective tool to implement immigration law, as well as deterring any type of crime.
The immigration issue exploded after the 2001 attacks by terrorists who had slipped into the US. Perhaps by the end of 2012, the nation will finally come closer to resolving the core dilemma in that debate: How much enforcement is preferred, and who can do it?