Supreme Court Decision A Warning to States Considering Anti-Immigrant Measures

“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down three of four key provisions of S.B. 1070, Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, is a further warning to policy makers in other states who are considering whether to embroil their state in this divisive issue,” said Vanessa Chong, ACLU of Hawaii Executive Director, who noted that “show me your papers” laws “condone racial profiling and undermine effective law enforcement.”

“Anti-immigrant laws modeled after Arizona’s S.B. 1070 are proving to be a failed experiment that we must not repeat in Hawaii,” Chong said.  “We’ve seen the corrosive effects that laws like S.B. 1070 have on a community.  There is growing awareness of how laws like these harm business, undermine police work, and threaten our most basic American values.  Given Hawaii’s unique immigrant heritage, our islands’ communities must remain tireless in fighting discrimination.”

The Court struck down three of the four Arizona provisions it considered, and said it was too early to tell whether the fourth provision is constitutional.  The so-called “show me your papers” provision requires police to determine the immigration status of someone arrested or detained if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that person is not in the country legally.

“That means if, for whatever reason, your last name, color of your skin or your accent allows you to be perceived as ‘foreign,’ you’re vulnerable to being stopped,” said ACLU National Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.  “That’s not an America we want to live in.”

The Court’s failure to recognize the draconian nature of the “show me your papers” provision reveals that it remains out of touch with how such law enforcement tactics always lead to racial profiling and unfair detention of citizens and immigrants alike.  It is impossible to enforce laws like Section 2B without using race, color or ethnicity.  The “show me your papers” law is inherently unequal in how it treats people, and the ACLU and its allies will ultimately prove this in court.

“Show me your papers” laws exact a heavy financial toll.  Alabama’s economy may have suffered a hit of as much as $6.5 billion as a result of its law, according to a University of Alabama study.  Arizona saw a drop in sales tax revenue and a jump in the unemployment rate when S.B. 1070 first became law in 2010.  Farmers have seen their crops rot and are planting less because the workers they have relied on for decades have fled in fear.  In Hawaii, more than 20 percent of all business owners are foreign born – among the highest percentages in the country.[1]  In 2010, unauthorized immigrants comprised 4.6 percent of Hawaii’s entire workforce.[2]  If all such workers were removed, the state would lose roughly $2.0 billion in economic activity.[3]

Anti-immigrant laws also drain the resources of county sheriffs and local police departments who do not want the burden of serving as immigration agents while also trying to protect their communities.  Immigration checks poison efforts to foster trust and cooperation within all communities.

In response to the ruling, the national ACLU has amassed an $8.77 million war chest to mount an aggressive response against states with or contemplating Show Me Your Papers laws.  It will help underwrite continued litigation against these measures, lobbying efforts and public education programs.

If you feel that you were stopped by police on the basis of your race or ethnicity, please contact the ACLU of Hawaii at office@acluhawaii.org.  You can also email hawaiistops@aclu.org.  All communications, including phone conversations, are strictly confidential.

For an infographic about the Supreme Court’s decision and more information, go to: www.aclu.org/sb1070

Know Your Rights Videos

To watch a two-minute public service announcement about your rights in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070:

English video: http://youtu.be/2JTzeukZJrE

En Espanol: http://youtu.be/hmkOPOWZ1Uo


[1] Robert W. Fairlie, Ph. D., Estimating the Contribution of Immigrant Business Owners to the U.S. Economy, SBA Office of Advocacy: Small Business Research Summary, No. 334, November 2008.

[2] Pew Research Center, Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010, Feb. 1, 2011, at 24.

[3] The Perryman Group, An Essential Resource: An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Undocumented Workers on Business Activity in the US with Estimated Effects by State and by Industry, Apr. 2008, at 69.