TUCSON, Ariz. — 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.
"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.
The justices on Monday unanimously approved the Arizona law's most-discussed provision requiring police to check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. But it struck down provisions allowing local police to arrest people for federal immigration violations. They also warned against detaining people for any prolonged period merely for not having proper immigration papers.
The decision left police chiefs and sheriffs grappling with questions ranging from what justifies reasonable suspicion that someone is in the country illegally to how long officers must wait when federal authorities are slow to respond to a question on someone's immigration status.
"It's uncharted territory," said Tony Estrada, sheriff of Santa Cruz County on the state's southern border with Mexico.
"It's going to be challenging. It's a complicated issue, and it's not going to be solved by this particular decision," he said.