April 26 (Bloomberg) — Can the police stop you and make you show your papers? In Europe, the answer has long been yes.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue — and from what the justices said at oral argument, it seems the U.S. might soon be getting more European. Or at least one step closer to requiring a national ID card.
The Arizona law before the court, S.B. 1070, makes it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant, and for illegal immigrants to seek work. It empowers the police to arrest anyone suspected of committing a crime that would merit deportation, even if the crime occurred in a different state.
But the law’s most controversial and important provision, section 2(B), requires law enforcement to determine immigration status whenever officers have a “reasonable suspicion” that any person with whom they have lawful contact is in the country illegally.
After Arizona passed the law, the Barack Obama administration challenged all these provisions before the federal courts. Civil rights activists believe, reasonably, that the law could be used to discriminate against Latinos, who are more likely to look suspiciously like illegal immigrants in the eyes of the Arizona police.
Yet the Justice Department decided to sidestep that racial issue. Instead, it asserted the inherent federal power to set law and policy on immigration. It claimed that Arizona was trying to set up its own policy of “attrition by enforcement” — scaring illegal immigrants back across the border to Mexico, or at least to surrounding states. A lower federal court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, blocking Arizona from enforcing the law without waiting to see how it would be applied in practice.