Skip Navigation

SB 1070 Decision – A Spur for Comprehensive Reform

BY Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, LBJ School Adjunct Professor

The political implications of the Supreme Court’s SB 1070 ruling are a wash as far as the November election is concerned. On the one hand, the President can point to three out of the four provisions being blocked. On the other hand, Romney and the GOP can point to the heart of SB 1070, the “show me your papers” clause, standing intact.

Victoria DeFrancesco SotoThere will be a great deal of finger-pointing and spin between both camps, but the split decision will have few implications for the 2012 campaign. Today’s decision will neither make it nor break it for either candidate or party, for that matter. The long-term political implications are clear, there is little patience left for piecemeal immigration policy. The states have been warned that they can’t stick their nose in federal business, but the federal government has been shown that if they don’t get their act together they’ll have to endure some state meddling. Regardless of who the President is come January 2013 he will have to stop dancing around and put together a comprehensive reform.

If the Supreme Court had held up the entirety of SB 1070, then the take home message would be that immigration policy was not solely the domain of the federal government. In fact, for the first 100 years of our history, immigration control was left up to individual states and there was no federal level regulation. It wasn’t until the 1875 Immigration Act that the first federal policy was put into effect, although it was a rather general policy, barring prostitutes and criminals from coming to the United States. Immigration as a federal level policy was further cemented through the Chinese Exclusion Acts of the late 1800s, the early 20th Century Immigration Quotas, and the founding of the Border Patrol in 1924. At its core, SB 1070 wanted to turn back the clock to when immigration policy was a state level issue.

Arizona was the test case for whether there was an appetite to divulge federal immigration powers to the state level. But today, the Supreme Court made it clear that there wasn’t. If the Supreme Court had struck down all of the blocked provisions then the message would have been that the federal government is in the right and nothing needs to change. The Court indicated that it wouldn’t accept the inaction of the federal government. Letting the most powerful provision of SB 1070 shows clear displeasure of their immigration modus operandi thus far – doing as little as possible.

A comprehensive immigration reform must be put in place come 2013. Whether it’s a Democratic leaning immigrant friendly reform or a more restrictive Republican leaning reform it doesn’t matter. The frustration at inaction is showcased all around—by states trying to address the issue on their own, in public opinion across racial and ethnic groups and most recently by the Supreme Court itself. The Supreme Court’s decision on SB 1070 is no electoral game changer, but it is a clear indicator that patience has run out at the Band-Aid approach to immigration.

Dr. Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto received her Ph.D. from Duke University and was recently named one of the top 12 scholars in the country by Diverse magazine. Victoria’s research analyzes how social identities shape political behavior. Her academic work focuses on: campaigns and elections, political marketing, women, race and ethnic politics and immigration.