Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review Arizona’s infamous anti-immigration law, which was enacted last year. After the Obama administration challenged this law and the Ninth Circuit blocked the enforcement of four of its provisions, this law’s enforceability will be decided by the justices of the Supreme Court, sans Elana Kagan.
In law school, I clerked for an immigration judge, and I vividly remember my first day. The judge was on one side of his desk and my co-clerk and I were on another. He described what type of cases we would be seeing: removal, petitions for asylum, etc. And, then he said, “We have too many illegal aliens from Mexico, the Middle East and the far East. And, most of them lie.” My co-clerk and I looked at each other wide-eyed and in shock.
I thought I was going to be welcoming in the persecuted with open arms, but I ended up sending most petitioners back to their home countries on a plane. Unfortunately, I found that the judge was right. I watched one asylum petitioner after the next change his story or get mixed up on his alleged religious beliefs. And, I drafted opinions on illegal aliens, who were convicted of drug trafficking or domestic violence. I was gravely disappointed.
A few years later, I watched the “West Wing” Thanksgiving episode, entitled “Shibboleth.” There, a boatload of Chinese refugees arrived on the shores of California, seeking asylum. They claimed that the Chinese government persecuted them for being evangelical Christians. I immediately thought, “meh. It’s probably a case of some snakeheads smuggling them in.” At the end of the episode, President Bartlet interrogated one of the refugees about Christianity. The refugee’s correct use of the word “shibboleth,” a password from the Bible used to distinguish true Israelites sent across the Jordan River, lead Bartlet to determine that the refugees were legitimately persecuted. Of course, this was only television, but the episode reminded me of all those good people, who immigrate to the United States, in hopes of freedom and of a better life.
Now, the issue presents itself in front of the United States Supreme Court. The Obama administration is challenging four provisions of Arizona’s anti-immigration law. The first, and most notable, is the requirement that the police question all detainees or arrestees on their immigration status, if the police suspect the individuals to be illegal aliens. The second provision makes it a crime for any illegal alien in the state of Arizona to fail to register under a federal one. The third provision of this anti-immigration law makes it a crime for illegal aliens to work or to even seek employment. And, the final provision of this law, which is challenged, allows the police to arrest individuals without a warrant, so long as the police have probable cause to believe that they are deportable under federal immigration law.
The State of Arizona, which has a 370-mile border with Mexico, claims that this strict law is simply a reflection of the state’s effort to address its struggle against illegal immigration. Arizona, like my immigration judge, sees the lying, criminal, and, unfortunately, realistic side of immigration every day and is grasping at ways to solve the dilemma. On the other hand, the Obama administration argues that the Arizona law unfairly treats illegal aliens like criminals and conflicts with federal law. Both sides have strong arguments. I just wish one side could utter “shibboleth” and enlighten the Supreme Court and the rest of the country on the proper and effective way to battle illegal immigration.