SALT LAKE CITY — Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Arizona's immigration enforcement law, Salt Lake City's police chief worries that lingering perceptions over the fight may be more difficult to deal with than the ruling itself.
"The Supreme Court is not addressing the bias that is inherent in some of these laws. That's my bigger concern," said Chief Chris Burbank in a recent interview.
"My fear has always been if we're treating one individual differently than another, well then we're not doing our job correctly and appropriately. The message that sends is a horrible message. It's one we've fought against in policing for many, many years."
The Supreme Court could issue its ruling on Arizona's controversial immigration enforcement law, SB1070, as early as today, some sources say. At the latest, the ruling will be handed down next week.
Arizona's law would expand the powers of state police to ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop, and to hold those suspected of being illegal immigrants.
The U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have argued that the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration laws. Arizona appealed a lower-court decision on the issue to the Supreme Court, claiming that states have the right to pass legislation because the federal government is failing to control illegal immigration.
The decision has implications for the DOJ's pending challenge to Utah's enforcement measure, HB497.
In February, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups heard oral arguments on the Utah law but put the matter on hold awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's SB1070.
Waddoups noted that some aspects of the Arizona law are "sufficiently similar" to Utah's law "that the Supreme Court's ruling likely will inform this court in its decision."
Utah's law requires police to verify the immigration status of people arrested for felonies and class A misdemeanors as well as those booked into jail on class B and class C misdemeanors. It also says officers may attempt to verify the status of people detained for class B and class C misdemeanors
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said he has been "praying these state laws are not seen as the way to go under our Constitution."
The Arizona law, Bishop Wester said, could easily result in racial profiling. "It is so draconian and so severe it could make the lives of real people very difficult when it's not necessary."
Salt Lake immigration attorney Roger Tsai said the general feeling among attorneys attending the recent American Immigration Lawyers Association conference in Nashville was that much of the Arizona law would be upheld.
One unanswered question is how law enforcers and federal authorities would deal with the impacts of state policies after the recent executive order by the Obama administration that puts on hold deportation of qualifying people 30 and under brought illegally to the United States by their parents, Tsai said.
It also unclear how state policies will co-exist with the now year-old memo by Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton that directs ICE officials to focus on deporting dangerous criminals and, when appropriate, administratively close the cases of people who have no criminal records, are employed and are attending school.
The national Federation for American Immigration Reform said the Supreme Court was scheduled to issue remaining opinions from this session on Thursday, Monday and possibly Wednesday.
"State immigration enforcement laws will be affected by both the Arizona decision and the Obama administration’s announcement to stop enforcement for illegal aliens under the age of 30. It is clear that no matter what the Supreme Court decides, the president and his advisers are intent on ignoring the will of the American people and their elected officials — at the local, state and national levels," the organization said in a statement.