U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Arizona Immigration Law

In a development that could have important implications to the U.S. immigration law landscape, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to review Arizona’s strict immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. The Arizona law, enacted in April 2010, has been exceptionally controversial since its inception. In addition to legal challenges, since the law was passed it has generated widespread protest and boycotts of Arizona resorts and convention centers have been triggered. This NewsBrief, for the benefit of MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers, discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s willingness to review the matter.

Background: Controversial State Laws on U.S. Immigration

The Arizona law contains a variety of provisions that relate to the enforcement of U.S. immigration law, an area that generally has been considered solely within the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal government. Among other provisions, it makes it a state misdemeanor offense to be present in Arizona without carrying documents proving valid immigration status (the so-called “show-me-your-papers” law). The Arizona law requires state law enforcement officials to determine an individual’s immigration status during a stop or arrest if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is present in the U.S. unlawfully, and creates severe penalties for anyone who harbors or transports an unauthorized immigrant. S.B. 1070 was reported to MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers shortly after its enactment, in our May 7, 2010 NewsBrief, Arizona’s Immigration Law Sparks Controversy and Lawsuits.

Challenges to S.B. 1070: Road to the Supreme Court

After the enactment of S.B. 1070, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Arizona, seeking to block the enforcement of the law, on the ground that it violated the U.S. Constitution. A Federal judge in Arizona agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice and issued a decision barring the enforcement of much of the law on the day before it was scheduled to go into effect. This ruling was upheld in April 2011 by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The State of Arizona continued to fight to enforce the law, and requested that the U.S. Supreme Court consider the matter. The U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case.

Other States on the Bandwagon Follow Arizona’s Lead

Since the passage of the Arizona law, other states have passed similar laws. Immigration measures have been passed in South Carolina, Utah, Georgia, Indiana and, most recently, in Alabama. The Alabama law is, perhaps, the most restrictive of any of the state laws, nullifying contracts entered into by unauthorized immigrants, requiring public schools to verify the immigration status of new students and forbidding any state or municipal government office from conducting transactions with anyone who did not provide proof of legal immigration status. Thus, Alabama residents are required to provide proof of legal status to obtain basic services such as municipal water and sewage service.

Racial Profiling Issues

Many argue that these state laws encourage racial profiling by police – stopping and questioning people based solely on the color of their skin or their accent, which is illegal under the U.S. Constitution. Coincidentally, the U.S. Department of Justice recently released a report detailing widespread and pervasive racial profiling in Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix and its suburbs). According to the U.S. Department of Justice report, a Latino driver in Phoenix was four-to-nine times more likely to be stopped by police than a non-Latino driver. A law enforcement expert cited in the report called this the worst racial profiling that he had ever seen in the United States.

All of the state laws have been challenged in Federal court, with varying results. Enforcement of the Arizona law has mostly been blocked, while a Federal judge in Alabama permitted most of that state’s law to go into effect. The U.S. Department of Justice has argued that the state laws violate the Constitution by permitting states to intrude onto Federal immigration laws and immigration enforcement.

Supreme Court Timing and Conclusion

The Supreme Court will likely issue a decision on the Arizona law in the summer of 2012. The topic of immigration enforcement is politically-charged, and this decision is likely to occur in the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign. Any decision on the Arizona law will likely define how much of a role state governments will be permitted to take in the enforcement of Federal immigration provisions. A ruling upholding the Arizona law will likely encourage other states to pass similar laws. Conversely, a decision finding the Arizona law unconstitutional will likely invalidate similar laws passed by other states, and reduce the likelihood of the passage of similar laws in states that would otherwise have considered such measures. While most MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers are documented foreign nationals, laws such as S.B. 1070 impact everyone and can tend to direct the overall immigration policy debate in the country. We will continue to follow this matter and share useful information with our readers once the case is heard in the Supreme Court.

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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.