The United States Supreme Court ruled most of SB 1070 unconstitutional yesterday. However, Section 2B, which requires police officers to check the immigration status of suspected undocumented immigrants, was left untouched. SCOTUS’ provisions will have ramifications in other states dealing with immigration policy. Alabama State Senator Gerald Dial is the Republican majority whip representing east Alabama’s 13th District. Zayne Smith is an immigration attorney with the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.
"We also have the portion in our bill that allows a law enforcement officer to stop an individual and determine if they're here legally or not," Dial says. "The governor and the state law enforcement have gone to a lot of trouble to teach our police officers where they will know how to do this without racial profiling."
Senator Dial originally supported Alabama's tough immigration bill, known as HB 56, the provisions of which are similar to Arizona's SB 1070. However, after the law began to produce unintended consequences, such as drops in school attendance by children whose parents feared they would be deported, Dial worked to dial down the law.
"We did make some major revisions to the Alabama law," Dial says. The portion that requires schools to determine the legal status of its children, however, is still in place. "I've been in contact with a lot of school teachers and administrators, and they tell me that they're not policemen, they're teachers."
The law was passed in June 2011, and requires that police check the immigration status of anyone who is pulled over in a "lawful stop", provided that the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the stopped individual is in the country illegally. While the similar provision of Arizona's SB 1070 was upheld by the Supreme Court, the justices struck down other provisions that mirror other components of Alabama's law. The language that would make activities such as looking for work without permission to be in the United States a state crime was struck by the Court on the grounds that it would pre-empt federal law.
"What is very unique about the opinion that the Supreme Court left us with yesterday is that they opened the door to further challenges to Alabama's HB 56 law," Smith says, especially Section 12, which requires police to determine the status of an individual reasonably suspected to be unlawful. "The Supreme Court did not say that Arizona Section 2 or Alabama Section 12 is not constitutional. They left the door open for further challenges."
The decision is a "warning shot" for states, Smith believes, warning them that "show me your papers" provisions must be applied very narrowly in order to avoid conflict with the Constitution. "I believe that the Supreme Court could foresee civil rights violations occurring."
With the Supreme Court identifying the tensions between federal and state law, politicians are now calling on Congress for comprehensive reform. "This is a federal issue and it should be addressed on the federal level," Dial says.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton shared the same sentiment in his reaction to the decision: "Today's decision by the Supreme Court is a reminder that we can't have a patchwork of state laws on immigration around the country. We need Congress to act now."