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Immigration ruling leaves Arizona police wondering: Now what?

The Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's SB-1070 law has left police with more questions than answers about how to handle suspected illegal immigrants.

Tucson, Ariz., mayor Jonathan Rothschild, left, listens to Tucson Chief of Police Roberto VillaseƱor at news conference on June 25, 2012 following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona SB-1070. VillaseƱor estimates the statute will result in 50,000 additional calls a year to federal immigration authorities in his city alone.

(AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, David Sanders)

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Arizona's police chiefs and county sheriffs hoped a U.S. Supreme Court ruling would settle their long-running debate on what role, if any, they should play in immigration enforcement. Instead, the justices' decision to uphold the state's "show me your papers" statute has left them with more questions than answers.

How long must officers wait for federal authorities to respond when they encounter someone illegal, especially given President Barack Obama's new policy to only deport dangerous criminals and repeat offenders? If they release a person too soon, are they exposing themselves to a lawsuit from residents who accuse them of failing to enforce the law?

How do they avoid being sued for racial profiling? Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he anticipated no change in how he does his job but that comes from someone who was accused of racially profiling Latinos in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department.

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"We're going to get sued if we do. We're going to get sued if we don't. That's a terrible position to put law enforcement officers in," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose territory covers much of southern Arizona and who has long argued against his state's requirement that local law enforcement be forced to ask about the legal status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.


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