Latinos Still “Alien Citizens”

Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Arizona (or other states such as Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah which all have some type of tough state immigration laws) have little room to legislate regarding immigration policy. The Supreme Court declared immigration enforcement is a federal issue. However, the Court ruled that law enforcement officials in Arizona could still ask about immigration status if they had reasonable suspicion that the person being stopped was undocumented. I wrote about how this would target Latinos in my first blog on racismreview stating that I would not go visit my parents in Arizona without my passport.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Ben Roffer

Based on today’s Supreme Court ruling, I will still not travel to Arizona without my passport.

The fact that the arguments of the case turned to issues of federalism rather than arguments about equal protection and/or civil rights violations should come as no surprise. It was set up that way from the start. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli assured Chief Justice Roberts that this case was not about racism towards Latinos. CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears tellingly states:

Even before the solicitor general began speaking midway through the argument, Chief Justice John Roberts framed the debate away from what has become a major complaint about the law: that it would target mostly Hispanic people for scrutiny and detention. “I’d like to clear up at the outset what it’s not about,” Roberts said. “No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it?” Verrilli readily agreed.

In this context the Court unanimously sustained the law’s section referred to as the “show me your papers” policy.

In doing so, it continued the larger policy that says it is okay to subject an entire ethnic and racial group of people to fundamental questions of belonging and acceptance by allowing law enforcement officials to question whether they belong here in this country legally or not.

This perpetuates and contributes to what Professor Leo Chavez refers to as the “Latino Threat Narrative” which situates all Latinos—whether legal immigrants, undocumented, or U.S. born—as outside of the American national community and sees them in a suspicious light. According to Leo Chavez, even U.S. born Latinos are seen as: “ ‘alien-citizens,’ perpetual foreigners despite their birthright”. Today’s Supreme Court decision reinforces that Latinos are seen and can be treated as “alien-citizens.”


  1. After the Supreme Court ruling on SB 1070 was announced yesterday, both Arizona Governor Brewer and the Obama administration claimed victory. I’d like to pose the following questions: Can the unauthorized immigrants also claim victory? What benefit did they derive from all this? Not a fucking thing. They will continue to work long hours in the ungodly summer heat of Arizona and live in fear of deportation, which in most cases will mean penury for their families.

  2. Maria Chavez Author

    Great question. To answer it one must consider material and symbolic benefits of the decision yesterday. And on both counts I believe the answer is: No. I don’t think unauthorized immigrants can claim victory with this decision no matter how one looks at it. Latinos in general cannot claim victory as long as the Supreme Court allows for the “show me your papers” provision. In fact, anyone who cares about civil rights and a free society cannot claim victory. Why would anyone think it is okay for the highest court in a land to give law enforcement the green light to experiment with an entire group of people to see whether civil rights violations will indeed occur. Now that is what boggles the mind, as Scalia would say.

  3. ThirtyNine4Ever

    I can’t see how the “show me your papers” provision can be enforced legaly unless they use it on 100% of traffic stops. I can’t see that happening, so I’m just waiting for the litigation then the non-enforcement that will follow. I think the legal system will take care of it.

    I can tell you one thing, my congressman (Grijalva) won’t stand for a single Arizonan having their civil rights violated.

  4. Maria Chavez Author

    You’re probably right, but you have to remember that both the citizen and non-citizen Latino population has very little reason to be trusting of law enforcement, particularly in Arizona. Police stops are still going to inspire fear and further distrust for no purpose.

    • E.J. Montini, an Arizona Republic writer, wrote the following in a June 25 column about the inconsequential results of the enforcement of the “Show me your papers” provision:
      ” Police can now be made to check the immigration status of anyone they stop for . . . [a] presumed offense but that doesn’t mean that anything will happen after that . . . . [F]ederal authorities get to make the final call on what happens to those individuals stopped by the police.”

      In other words, nothing is likely to happen to an undocumented for not producing papers at a police stop after local law enforcement officials notify Federal authorities. However, Maria is right: When the undocumented are stopped by the police, especially for no apparent reason, the experience nonetheless will “inspire fear and further distrust” as well as anguish among them.

      José A. Cobas

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