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Arizona Immigration Law (S.B. 1070)

On April 23, 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law Senate Bill 1070 aimed at preventing illegal immigration that has significantly affected the Mexico-bordering state over many decades. The new law, entitled Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, would require law enforcement officials to enforce existing federal immigration laws in the state by checking the immigration status of a person they have "reasonable suspicion" of being in the U.S. illegally. An immigrant found without proper documentation would be charged with a misdemeanor.

Although the law says nothing about deportation, it allows law enforcement agencies to immediately transfer a person it believes is in violation of any U.S. or state laws into Customs or Border Protection, and subsequently, to a federal facility in the state.

The impact of S.B. 1070 is far-reaching. If the law takes effect on July 29, 2010, issues involving state's rights, civil rights, constitutional law, amnesty, state immigration policy, politics, and national reform may be affected.

Below is a general overview of some of the legal implications and impact that may arise.

 National, State, and Local Reaction

The signing of Arizona's new law sparked an ongoing national debate from both opponents and supporters of the law over its legality. Opponents claim the new law is unconstitutional under civil rights laws, and believe it would lead to racial profiling and harassment of Hispanics and other Spanish-speaking residents of the state. President Barack Obama took an early stance against the new Arizona immigration law by calling it "misguided" and claiming it has "the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning, because of what they look like or how they sound."

Supporters of the measure claim the law simply enforces what the federal government requires it to do and argues that the law's overall purpose is to keep neighborhoods and communities safe in a state heavily affected with illegal immigration, drug smuggling and human trafficking. Moreover, some say the law is needed to help lead the charge for immigration reform.

 The Supremacy Clause

Under the doctrine of preemption, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Section 2) stands for the principle that federal law "preempts" (or trumps) state law in matters arising out of federal law. Because immigration laws and policy are federal in nature, the Arizona immigration law is being challenged on the grounds that it overstepped its exercise of power under the U.S. constitution. The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Arizona in early July of 2010, arguing that immigration law is the domain of federal, not state, law.

 Racial Profiling

By definition, racial profiling is the use of race or nationality to identify a person as a suspect or potential suspect. Because the new law would allow police to arrest people they suspect of being in Arizona illegally, opponents believe it would unfairly lead to racial profiling among a large percentage of residents or visitors within the state.

 National Immigration Policies

Many national immigration reform advocates are hoping the controversy surrounding Arizona's new law will help put the emphasis on the need for a comprehensive federal reform law that has been talked about for several years, including during the Bush administration.

 Public Safety Concerns

Because the law might discourage illegal immigrants from reporting criminal activity, there is a concern over public safety. Unauthorized residents, who fear being prosecuted, may essentially put others at risk by not reporting such activities.

 "Piggy Back" Affect

Following the passing of Arizona's S.B. 1070, a growing number of states have drafted a bill similar to Arizona's. Legislators in at least five states including Pennsylvania, Minnesota, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Mississippi have introduced laws mirroring the Arizona immigration law. Politicians in at least 10 other states including Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Texas, and Michigan also plan to introduce similar bills.

Supreme Court Arguments

On April 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the Department of Justice's lawsuit to invalidate S.B. 1070 on the ground that it improperly extends state power into the federally controlled realm of immigration law. A transcript of the oral arguments pertaining to Arizona v. United States (U.S.) is available at the Supreme Court's website.

Immigration Lawsuits

The potential for lawsuits extends beyond the Department of Justice's suit. Several Arizona police officers have filed lawsuits against the state claiming that they are required to enforce a law that could potentially cause liability on themselves. Others, who believe they are being unfairly treated or racially-profiled, may seek to file a claim based on a violation of their civil rights.

Next Steps
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