On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling regarding a controversial immigration law in the state of Arizona. The timing of the ruling, coming just a week before the Fourth of July, is a poignant reminder of the history of our country.
We are a country that was founded by illegal immigrants, with lands both seized and purchased from other sovereign nations. We have a government that was established because of the failure to act by a monarch, a failure to listen to the subjects of the British colonies.
The Supreme Court ruling struck down several key portions of the Arizona law and left intact one regarding proof of immigration status. In a New York Times article the president is quoted as saying:
¬ìI agree with the court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,¬î Obama said. ¬ìGoing forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans.¬î
Our civil rights have been, and continue to be, under attack from a government that is acting out of a sense of fear to control people. Everything from the horribly misnamed Patriot Act to the extensive rights the police have to lie to a detained person in order to coerce a confession out of them are attacks on our civil liberties.
California does not have a law similar to the Arizona one, and at the moment I am not likely to be stopped by the police to have my immigration status confirmed. But that can change.
And if you don¬ít believe me, I¬íll use my recent experience with gay marriage in California to be an obvious example. The right to marry was granted to all California citizens, and was then revoked by a proposition that was funded and championed by the Mormons, the Catholics and a few other fringe religious zealots. They bamboozled the public in a flurry of misdirection and outright lies and ¬ó bam ¬ó my right to marry another man was stricken from me.
Fooling the public is an easy thing to do, especially when the flames of misogyny, bigotry and racism are fanned with fears of job loss, crime and loss of majority status. Humans are innately afraid of the different, whether it be skin color, gender or nationality. It is a fight or flight mechanism that is hardwired, and we are not the better for it.
In Arizona, the bigots won out for a while, and in some ways they still have a tool or two at their disposal with this court¬ís ruling. However, the federal government is still pre-eminent and will have the final say, which is good for all of us in some ways as the local prejudices should not overtake the power of the federal government. And bad in others, as the heavy boot of the feds can be a crushing force.
¬ìThe national government has significant power to regulate immigration,¬î Justice Kennedy wrote. ¬ìWith power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the nation¬ís meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse.¬î
We fought a war 160 years ago that stood for the proposition that the federal was greater than the state, and we need to remember that. This ruling keeps that war in mind, which means that should the federal government decide ¬ìpapers¬î are needed for everyone, we could all be subject to having to provide proof of citizenship at any time.
¬ìArizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,¬î Justice Kennedy added.
As we approach the Fourth of July remembrance of our declaration of independence from Britain, this ruling is a timely reminder that the federal government is still in power, but also that we the people are supposed to keep an eye on the government and make sure it is serving us, and not the other way around.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.