The federal court decision blocking key parts of a new Arizona law requiring law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they stop represents a perfect ink blot test. On controversial subjects such as this, everyone can project into the issue whatever beliefs they hold.
For those who support the Arizona law, they will see the judge’s decision as proof of judicial activism and judges being out of touch with ordinary folks. Many people hate it when judges overturn provisions enacted by elected legislators and supported subsequently in a number of public opinion polls.
But of course, the role of judges is to examine constitutional issues and serve as a check and balance on elected officials. In the case of Arizona, the legal issue concerns the legality of a mandatory requirement that law enforcement check those they have stopped for being in the country illegally. The legal problem is on what basis do the police judge who “looks like” they are in the country illegally. Do those kinds of stops represent an unreasonable search and seizure on the part of the police? In this case, the judge agreed with the law’s critics and said there was too much ambiguity in the statue and too great of an infringement on people’s rights.
With deep public emotion centering on all aspects of immigration policy, this issue highlights Congress’ inability to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. If the national government were addressing people’s concerns about law enforcement and border security, states would not be writing their own immigration policies. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the judge’s decision, everyone should want Congress to take action to reform our immigration system. We have a status quo on immigration that virtually no one likes. In that situation, it is time to act. Delay only aggravates the tensions that already exist across the country and makes matters much worse.