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Duke Engage: Partial justice does have merits

Among many advantages of DukeEngage in Tucson is the opportunity to connect national and political issues with what we’re doing in the community. The most momentous of these issues is, of course, the United States v. Arizona case involving the notorious Arizona Senate Bill 1070—one of the strictest anti-illegal immigration measures in the nation.

Although I had already heard of it before coming to Tucson, I had never expected that the ruling would have such a huge impact on the community I was serving. Since the second week of June, the Tuscon immigrant community was waiting anxiously for the result and preparing to utter immediate response. I was part of the community, too. Deep in my heart, I had prayed hundreds of times that the Supreme Court would turn down the sections under scrutiny.

I still remember how happy I was on the morning of June 25, after I found out that the Supreme Court ruled SB 1070 unconstitutional. The happiness still reverberated after I knew that the “your papers, please” section—which was the most criticized one—was still upheld while the other three sections were turned down.

I thought that the press conference held by several advocacy groups would have two themes: celebration of what we had already achieved and determination of continuing fighting. The press conference, however, was all about the latter. Many people expressed how upset and dissatisfied the community felt about the result and criticizing how inhumane and anti-immigration the Supreme Court was. I, on the other hand, felt something different, which made me unable to totally resonate with the “we-are-super-annoyed” demonstration.

Partial justice is not justice. That is something I’ve heard people saying again and again at the press conference. On one hand, that is true: partial justice is not what we are fighting for. We are striving for the goal that everyone’s dignity is fully respected. On the other hand, partial justice is not worthless. Although it is not the best thing we can achieve, it is still an achievement of the immigrant community. We saved Arizona from becoming the state where the migrants are treated most harshly by laws. We ensured that the migrants who are working would not be criminalized so that their DREAMer sons and daughters could get a two-year renewable permit allowing them to live, work, drive and attend college legally. We ensured that the local police do not have the right to arrest anyone who they suspect are eligible to be deported. Most importantly, the partial justice would not have come true without persistent and painful efforts that the whole community has been making.

Thus, in my opinion, this is a moment when we should stand proudly and celebrate that our efforts finally made a difference; we should speak to the whole nation that we are a powerful community as long as we stand together. The partial justice has its value.

The ruling is more understandable if we consider the context of the larger society. The Supreme Court is not an idealistically pure defender of justice. Instead, it’s a social institution: its decisions are determined by, and a mirror of, general public opinions. Although sometimes the Supreme Court rulings could push the society forward, it cannot make a decision which goes far beyond the current mainstream ideology. Therefore, in today’s society—which is rather ignorant of and conservative about immigration issues—the Supreme Court has no way to make a decision that was “too” liberal. It isn’t realistic to hope that the Supreme Court could bring us full justice overnight. What we should do is not to point our finger to the Supreme Court but to raise awareness among the society and change the public opinion. Of course it’s a tough, long journey. But every bit of improvement needs a tough, long journey—think about how many years women spent fighting for the right to vote and African Americans spent fighting against segregation. Moreover, every bit of partial justice is a milestone on the journey. It is a reminder telling us to be proud of what we’ve reached, and also a new starting point from which we venture forward.


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