WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court cleared the way for Arizona police to begin enforcing the “papers, please” portion of the SB 1070 immigration law, but how it would take effect was unclear to some agencies Monday.
The law still has to work its way back down through the court system – a process that experts say could take four to five weeks. Until then, local law enforcement is left in limbo.
“There’s still some ambiguity to it. Right now, we’re still reviewing it,” said Sgt. Anthony Landato, spokesman for Mesa Police Department. “It does not appear that the Mesa Police Department will have to make any substantive changes to our existing policy, but we’re still going over it with a fine-tooth comb.”
The ruling came the same day that the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is ending 287(g) agreements with local police departments in Arizona. Those agreements allow local police to carry out some immigration enforcement activities usually reserved for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including the arrest and detention of criminal undocumented immigrants.
“ICE 287(g) task enforcements are no longer necessary,” a senior DHS official said Monday. “Nothing short of a comprehensive solution will solve” the problem of illegal immigration, which is why the department is urging Congress to act on comprehensive reform.
The official, speaking on background, noted that the program is being phased out nationwide. But others saw the administration’s announcement as symbolic, coming on the same day as the Supreme Court ruling.
The court considered four aspects of the law, striking down three. It upheld section 2(b) of the law, which requires that police check the immigration status of a suspect they have stopped for another infraction if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect is here illegally.
In anticipation of the court’s decision, Gov. Jan Brewer on June 12 reinstituted training of police in the enforcement of SB 1070, to ensure that officers “enforce this law efficiently, effectively and in a manner consistent with the Constitution.”
The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board issued a brief set of instructions Monday on which segments of the department’s training DVD should continue or cease to be used in officer training, in light of the court’s ruling.
“The important part of training is to ensure no racial profiling occurs – that civil rights are protected,” Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said Monday.
But Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said he expects there to be problems with racial profiling once the law starts to be enforced.
“There’s going to be a racial profiling component to this that’s going to raise issues and questions,” Estrada said. “We want to be absolutely sure that we don’t impose on people’s rights.”
He said his county is awaiting “clear direction” to start enforcing the law. And although he doesn’t agree with it, he noted that it is his job to uphold the law to the best of his ability.
While police await direction on the state law, the decision to end the 287(g) program drew a swift response from both sides of the issue Monday.
“Suspending this program will strip our local authorities of critical tools to deal with illegal immigration,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa. “The Obama administration is effectively broadcasting that unless an illegal immigrant is wanted for a crime, the attention of ICE isn’t warranted.”
But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, lauded the decision, saying it keeps law enforcement “focused on criminal behavior” and not “widespread racial profiling and discrimination.”
“DHS officials have been directed not to respond to law enforcement activity unless the suspect meets federal enforcement priority guidelines,” Grijalva said in a prepared statement. “These steps mean that Arizonans will be protected from discriminatory or targeted enforcement by (Maricopa County Sheriff Joe) Arpaio and any other law enforcement agent tempted to ignore federal guidelines.”
Arpaio’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.
But other local police agencies said they are not in the business of racial profiling and expressed confidence that their officers will carry out the law as they were trained to do.
“Law enforcement does not racially profile but rather they enforce laws in a fair and impartial manner,” Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said in a prepared statement. “Law enforcement is entrusted to make life-and-death decisions – certainly we can be trusted to make these decisions.”
- CNS reporters Jerilyn Forsythe and Meghan McCarthy contributed to this report.