John Roberts gives illegal immigration opponents a sound bite

As my colleague David Savage reports, the Supreme Court wasn’t very hospitable to the Obama administration’s argument that Arizona’s infamous Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act unconstitutionally infringed on federal authority over immigration. Worse than that, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. inadvertently (we hope) provided opponents of illegal immigration with a snazzy sound bite.

Section 2(B) of the Arizona law provides that “[f]or any lawful stop, detention or arrest made” by Arizona law enforcement, “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person.” It also states that “[t]he person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to 8 United States Code section 1373(c).” For a person who is arrested and whose status cannot be determined or presumed, the status verification must be performed “before the person is released.”

In a colloquy with Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Roberts said: “Well, but you say that the Federal Government has to have control over who to prosecute, but I don’t see how Section 2(B) says anything about that at all. All it does is notify the Federal Government, here’s someone who is here illegally, here’s someone who is removable. The discretion to prosecute for Federal immigration offenses rests entirely with the Attorney General.”

And here’s the sound bite: “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally or not.”


However the court rules on the Arizona law, Roberts’ comment encapsulates the attitude of a lot of immigration hawks toward the Obama administration: Sure, the president may be deporting some illegal aliens who committed violent crimes, but basically he turns a blind eye to the problem of illegal immigration. So long as illegal immigrants are otherwise law abiding, they get a free pass.

Fair or not, this view of the administration is problematic, politically, with lots of voters. According to several polls, a majority of Americans support the Arizona law. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 62% of respondents said the Supreme Court should uphold the Arizona law, and 27% wanted it struck down. Interestingly, 45% of Latino respondents wanted the court to uphold the Arizona law, while 43% hoped it would be overturned.

“Obama: He just doesn’t want to know.” It would make a dandy Romney bumper sticker.



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