Arizona’s Enactment of New Law – Suggestions for Immigrants

A suggestion recently came to the Murthy Law Firm from a reader who plans to visit Arizona in the near future. We were asked to provide hints and guidance for foreign nationals planning travel to Arizona, in light of the controversial new law there that provides for greatly enhanced police authority with regard to immigration enforcement. The recommendations we provide here are not to cause alarm and should be weighed in importance determined by an individual’s particular situation – a visitor from abroad as opposed to an immigrant living and working in Arizona, for example. Our thanks go to the individual who suggested this article – and to all of you, our friends, fans, supporters, and readers – for your interest. At MurthyDotCom and the MurthyBulletin, we constantly strive to increase our benefit and service to the immigrant community.

Background on Arizona’s Controversial Immigration Law

There has been extensive national news coverage regarding Arizona’s efforts to combat undocumented migration through the passage of a law known as S.B. 1070. This law, scheduled to go into effect on July 29, 2010, was reported in our May 7, 2010 article, Arizona’s Immigration Law Sparks Controversy and Lawsuits. As explained in that article, this law requires police in Arizona to ask questions of individuals if they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person they encounter is not lawfully in the United States. They have this authority when they have “lawful contact” with such an individual. [Immigration questioning by Arizona police is not supposed to occur unless the police have “lawful contact,” which is defined as a valid, unrelated reason for stopping an individual.] More detail on the provisions within this law, which is named Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, is widely available on the internet.

Boycott of Arizona by Organizations and Individuals

In reaction to this law, there have been boycotts of Arizona by individuals and organizations. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is among these organizations, having cancelled plans to hold a convention in Arizona. However, there are foreign nationals who either live in Arizona or who must travel to Arizona for business. Many people have planned vacations well in advance, and make commitments for airfares and hotels that cannot be changed or cancelled without losing significant amounts of money or causing great inconvenience.

Following are some suggestions that might prove helpful to individuals trying to avoid brushes with law enforcement based on the new law while in Arizona. Most importantly, one needs to be able to provide documentation of legal status, if needed.

July 29, 2010 – The New Law’s Effective Date

The effective date of S.B. 1070 is July 29, 2010. This means that the law does not change until that date. Thus, individuals who will leave Arizona before July 29th should not be subjected to the profiling, questioning, and enforcement anticipated under S.B. 1070. There are efforts to challenge S.B. 1070, which is opposed by the Federal Government. There is, therefore, some chance that the enforcement of the law will be delayed or stopped prior to the anticipated effective date.

Travel with Immigration-Related Documents

Assuming that S.B. 1070 will be the law in Arizona as planned, foreign nationals traveling or living there should be sure that they can submit or show evidence of valid legal status in the United States. Nonimmigrants should have their most recent, valid I-94 card stapled into their passports. They should be able to show documentation of compliance with the particular status. This could include an employer letter and paystubs for workers in H1B or other employment-based, nonimmigrant status. Permanent residents need to carry their I-551s (or “green cards”) as proof of status.

Although provisions of most laws of this type should not affect U.S. citizens, it is better to err on the side of caution. Naturalized U.S. citizens or those who might be profiled, due to foreign parentage and appearance, should bring their passports if available or another form of identification document (ID) issued by the U.S. federal or state government. It may also help to have a scanned copy of a naturalization certificate available.

Evidence of Filed / Pending Cases

Any individual with an expired I-94 card, who is lawfully present in the U.S. based on a pending case filing, may want to obtain a brief explanatory letter from her/his attorney. Typically, this would include those with pending requests to extend or change status, or with pending adjustment of status to permanent residence. Individuals with pending adjustment-of-status cases should bring their EADs, if they have them, as that may provide a document with an approval and unexpired date that could be helpful. Carry the contact information of your lawyer, in case of an emergency.

Immigration Status of Children / Issues to Consider

Parents need to think about documentation for their children traveling with them. For many, the suggestions provided above for all foreign nationals also will apply for children. For those whose children were born in the United States, they are, of course, U.S. citizens. They may wish to carry U.S. passports, if they have them, or the child’s birth certificate. For foreign born children who are U.S. citizens by operation of law, following the naturalization of the parent/s, it would be safest to bring a passport and, if available, a certificate of citizenship. The certificate of citizenship, requested using Form N-600, is generally a good idea for children who obtain citizenship based on the parent/s having obtained citizenship.

Consistency in Documents

In case of an encounter with the police, it is important to have as much consistency as possible in one’s documents. There are often problems associated with a change in address due to relocation. One’s driver’s license should reflect the correct state of residence and proper home address. The AR-11 form should be updated to reflect the correct address, as required by law for all non-U.S. citizens (but a U.S. citizen can update the information as well). Those with pending cases should make sure that any needed address updates have been placed on each form / application / petition pending with the USCIS.

Avoid Action or Behavior that Could Result in Police Encounters

As mentioned, immigration questioning by Arizona police is not supposed to occur unless the police have a valid, unrelated reason for stopping an individual. So, it is best to be careful and not give the police any reason for such an encounter. Simple precautions include obeying traffic rules and not engaging in any behavior that would be considered to be even a minor violation of state or federal law and public policy. If one is in a place where there are police, there is no need for panic or drastic measures to avoid contact. Overreactions leading to furtive or evasive behaviors are more often likely to look suspicious.


Since the Arizona law has not yet gone into effect, it is difficult to anticipate how it will be implemented and the scope of the potential problems faced by foreign or foreign-looking individuals traveling to that state. We will continue to follow the key developments with S.B. 1070 and will provide MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers with important updates.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.