Supreme Setback Looms Ahead

By Miguel Perez

May 1, 2012 5 min read

If the Supreme Court tea leaf readers are correct, if more than four justices decide to uphold Arizona's infamous SB 1070, and you are an immigrant — legal or illegal — brace yourself for unprecedented harassment.

Even if you were born in this country and in the mirror you see Uncle Sam, if the cops think you look like an immigrant, look out!

In several states, throughout this country, police soon may be authorized to treat you differently than other Americans, by asking you to prove that you are here legally.

"If the court rules in favor of Arizona's anti-immigrant law, it will effectively legalize the harassment and discrimination of an entire population - just because of the color of their skin or the accent with which they speak," warns immigrant rights advocate Frank Sharry. "Under this law anyone 'reasonably suspect' of being here without immigration status has to be asked by law enforcement to produce their papers. If allowed to go into effect, citizens and immigrants alike, especially Latinos, will be treated as a suspect class."

He is right. If this is not ethnic profiling, nothing is!

Yet when SB 1070 went before the Supreme Court last week, Chief Justice Roberts had the audacity to assure us that "this is not a case about ethnic profiling."

Is he for real? Latinos and other legal immigrants in Arizona already are complaining about being profiled! And that's in spite of the courts barring the law from taking effect.

Imagine what happens if the Supreme Court gives it a green light, not only for Arizona but for several other states that have been waiting to emulate its draconian measures. Is there any doubt that it would lead to widespread discrimination against Latinos and other "immigrant-looking" Americans?

Yet, if the tea leaf readers are correct, this Supreme Court could take us all into the state of intolerance that Arizona has become. The Statue of Liberty would become a symbol of the nation we used to be. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." would become a sad joke. Our proud tradition as nation that appreciates the contributions of immigrants would be thrashed.

If the federal government fails to prevail in its case against Arizona, for Latinos and other immigrant-looking Americans around the country, the civil rights clock would be turned back for several decades.

And given the forceful way in which the majority of the justices seemed to attack the U.S. government's position for more than an hour last week, Arizona officials are optimistic that their mean-spirited measures will prevail.

Even immigrant rights advocates seem to be bracing themselves for a terrible blow when the Supreme Court rules on SB 1070 in late June.

"Changing the course of history has never been easy, and the fight for immigrant justice is no different," said Sharry, who heads the America's Voice Education Fund. "But the truth is that the number of angry extremists in this country is relatively small, and their days of blocking humane and sensible immigration reform are numbered."

While this may be true — because demographics don't lie — a Supreme Court decision to uphold SB 1070 could be devastating. U.S. Latinos of the 21st century could find themselves living in the racist 1950s.

Obviously trying to pick up some downed spirits among the pro-immigrant troops, Sharry noted in a statement that, "Whatever radicals in Arizona or the Supreme Court decide, we will prevail."

"Let's keep up the fight," he added. "Let's continue to build the political power we need to win. And let's know in our hearts that victory is not a matter of if, but a matter of when."

It's true. The pendulum eventually will swing in the opposite direction. But if a conservative majority in the Supreme Court sets back our clock for years, if we see our civil rights regressing because of this ruling, this may be the final kick in the stomach that Latinos need to start a new civil rights movement in this country.

Even the few Latinos who don't sympathize with undocumented immigrants would soon see that they, too, would be profiled and harassed unnecessarily.

If the High Court rules for Arizona, a new important issue will rapidly emerge in the Hispanic community. Until now, most Latinos could care less about the composition of the Supreme Court or about selecting a president who can change it. But if a Supreme Court majority allows profiling, count on Latinos to start profiling them.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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