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Arizona Immigration Law (SB 1070)

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Arizona Immigration Law (SB 1070)


Updated: April 11, 2011


In April 2010, Arizona adopted the nation's toughest law on illegal immigration, provoking a nationwide debate and a Justice Department lawsuit. On July 28, one day before the law was to take effect, a federal district court judge struck down its most controversial provisions, including sections that called for officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times. In April 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against the State of Arizona and let stand the lower court's decision.

The law, known locally as SB1070 or Senate Bill 1070, was aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants from entering or remaining in the state. It coincided with economic anxiety and followed a number of high-profile crimes attributed to illegal immigrants and smuggling, though federal data suggest that crime is falling in Arizona, as it is nationally, despite a surge of immigration. The law's supporters said it reflected frustration over inaction by the federal government, while critics said it would lead to harassment of Hispanics and turn the presumption of innocence upside down.

The legislated requires police officers, "when practicable," to detain people they reasonably suspect are in the country without authorization and to verify their status with federal officials, unless doing so would hinder an investigation or emergency medical treatment. The law also makes it a state crime — a misdemeanor — to not carry immigration papers. In addition, it allows people to sue local government or agencies if they believe federal or state immigration law is not being enforced.

In July 2010, just days before the law was to take effect, Judge Susan Bolton of Federal District Court issued an injunction blocking parts of it. Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who supports the crackdown on immigrants, filed an appeal seeking to have the injunction lifted.

After the appeals court rejected the state’s request in April 2011 and issued a lengthy decision indicating that it believed the state had overstepped its authority, State Senator Russell K. Pearce, a Republican who is the principal sponsor of the law, remained defiant, saying the issue would ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

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In her ruling in July 2010, Judge Bolton in Phoenix said that issuing a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of some elements of the law "is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely preempted by federal law to be enforced."

"There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens," she wrote. "By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a 'distinct, unusual and extraordinary' burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose."

Governor Brewer and the Arizona attorney general, Tom Horne, vowed to keep fighting for the law. “I believe the Ninth Circuit decision will be overturned by the United States Supreme Court, and I pledge to make every possible effort to achieve that result,” Mr. Horne said.

The Arizona law had inflamed the national debate over immigration and provoked an outcry across the border. Mexico's Foreign Ministry has said that it worried about the rights of its citizens and relations with Arizona. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said the authorities' ability to demand documents was like "Nazism."

President Obama had criticized the bill shortly before Gov. Brewer signed it. The Arizona law, he said, threatened "to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe."

A Dormant Issue Revived

Immigration reform had been in effect a dormant issue nationally until the passage of the Arizona law in April 2010. Republicans and Democrats had agreed for years on the need for sweeping changes in the federal immigration laws. President George W. Bush for three years pushed for a bipartisan bill before giving up in 2007 after an outcry from voters opposed to any path to legal status for illegal aliens.

But immigration reform came back to life in April 2010 after the passage of the Arizona statute. About 20 other states are considering similar laws, and Democratic governors have complained to the White House of the political fallout of opposing the Arizona measure.

After the Arizona law passed, a coalition of top Senate Democrats laid out the contours of a proposed overhaul of immigration laws -- and appealed to Republicans to join them in pursuing it -- even as doubts mounted about the prospects of winning approval of legislation in 2010.

A Federal Challenge

The Justice Department on July 6 had filed a lawsuit in federal court in Phoenix to challenge the state law, contending that controlling immigration is a federal responsibility. Polls, however, suggest that a majority of Americans support the Arizona law, or at least the concept of a state having a strong role in immigration enforcement.

The lawsuit had been expected since mid-June 2010, when Obama administration officials first disclosed they would contest the legislation, adding to several other suits seeking to have courts strike it down.

The federal government added its weight to the core argument in those suits, which also had argued that the Arizona law usurps powers to control immigration reserved for federal authorities. The main suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other civil rights groups.

The mere fact of being present without legal immigration status is a civil violation under federal law, but not a crime.

The Justice Department contended that the law would divert federal and local law enforcement officers by making them focus on people who may not have committed crimes, and by causing the "detention and harassment of authorized visitors, immigrants and citizens."

The Justice Department suit was also aimed at stemming a tide of similar laws under consideration in other states. "The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country," the suit says.

White House officials said Mr. Obama was not involved in the Justice Department's decision to sue. But the suit came after steps by Mr. Obama to frame the immigration debate in terms that will favor Democrats in advance of midterm elections in November, including a speech in July when he restated his commitment to overhaul legislation that would give legal status to millions of illegal immigrants.

Judge's Ruling


On July 28, Judge Bolton in Phoenix blocked central provisions of the Arizona law from taking effect. The judge broadly vindicated the Obama administration's high-stakes move to challenge the state's law and to assert the primary authority of the federal government over state lawmakers in immigration matters.

Arizona's lawyers had contended that the statute was written to complement federal laws. Judge Bolton, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, rejected that argument, finding that four of its major provisions interfered or directly conflicted with federal laws.

The Arizona police, she wrote, would have to question every person they detained about immigration status, generating a flood of requests to the federal immigration authorities for confirmations. The number of requests "is likely to impermissibly burden federal resources and redirect federal agencies away from priorities they have established," she wrote.

While opponents of the Arizona law had said it would lead to racial profiling, the Justice Department did not dwell on those issues in its court filings. But Judge Bolton brought them forward, finding significant risks for legal immigrants and perhaps American citizens. There is a "substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens," she wrote, warning that foreign tourists could also be wrongly detained.

The law, she found, would increase "the intrusion of police presence into the lives of legally present aliens (and even United States citizens), who will necessarily be swept up" by it.

The federal ruling shifted the political pressure back onto President Obama to show that he can effectively enforce the border, and to move forward with an overhaul of the immigrations laws, so that states will not seek to step in as Arizona did.

Lawmakers' Second Round

In February 2011, Arizona legislators were crafting a sweeping restrictions that would make the 2010 bill look watered down. In it, illegal immigrants would be barred from driving in the state, enrolling in school or receiving most public benefits. Their children would receive special birth certificates that would make clear that the state does not consider them Arizona citizens.

Some of the bills, like those restricting immigrants’ access to schooling and right to state citizenship, flout current federal law and are being put forward to draw legal challenges in hopes that the Supreme Court might rule in the state’s favor. Similar legal challenges are likely to come in response to the latest round of legislation, some of which cleared a key Senate committee in February after a long debate that drew hundreds of protesters, some for and some against the crackdown.

The measures would compel school officials to ask for proof of citizenship for students and require hospitals to similarly ask for papers for those receiving non-emergency care. Illegal immigrants would be blocked from obtaining any state licenses, including those for marriage. Landlords would be forced to evict the entire family from public housing if one illegal immigrant were found living in a unit. Illegal immigrants found driving would face 30 days in jail and forfeit the vehicle to the state.

Some state lawmakers said their constituents were furious over the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging the last immigration law and wanted the state to continue pressing the issue. Gov. Brewer  said the state would file a countersuit against the federal government accusing it of not enforcing immigration laws. The hope is that the Supreme Court will decide the matter in favor the states.

<NYT>,2011/04/11