Arizona’s Immigration Law at the Supreme Court

Can states enforce federal immigration law?

Adam Freedman
May 16, 2012

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Today’s topic: Arizona’s immigration law at the Supreme Court.

And now, your daily dose of legalese: This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

Is the Arizona Immigration Law Constitutional?

In April 2010, Arizona’s governor signed a law known as SB 1070 designed to crack down on illegal immigration. Although the law immediately provoked controversy and opposition, it also attracted quite a few sympathizers. Since 2010, at least 5 other states have adopted measures similar to the Arizona law to deter illegal aliens..

President Obama Sues Arizona

But the Arizona law has come in for harsh criticism among civil libertarians and immigration activists. I discussed the original arguments for and against the law in an earlier episode back in 2010. But since then, the Obama administration has sued Arizona, arguing that the law is unconstitutional. On April 25, 2012, the Supreme Court heard argument on the validity of the law. In this article, I’ll explain what issues that Court considered and which way the Court might decide.

What Does the Arizona Immigration Law Say?

Although the Arizona law contains many provisions, the legal challenge to SB 1070 focuses on just 4 sections of the law. They are:

  • Section 2(B), which requires police officers to verify the immigration status of people whom they stop or arrest if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be in the U.S. illegally;

  • Section 6, which allows a police officer to arrest someone without a warrant if the officer believes that the person committed a crime that could get him deported;

  • Section 3, which makes it a crime to be in Arizona without proper immigration papers; and

  • Section 5, which makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek or accept employment in Arizona.

The Case is Not About “Racial Profiling”

Some critics of SB 1070 have argued that the law encourages racial profiling against Hispanic people. That argument, however, will not be part of the Supreme Court’s decision. Contrary to some expectations, the Obama administration did not argue that the law is discriminatory or is likely to foster discrimination.