The Fate of SB1070 Decided in Arizona v. United States Today

June 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Today the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 5-3 opinion that the authority to enforce immigration laws rests squarely with the federal government, limiting the role that states may play in crafting state-level answers to immigration enforcement. Written by Justice Kennedy, a part of the opinion reads: “Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns…The equities of an individual case may turn on many factors, including whether the alien has children born in the United States, long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service. Some discretionary decisions involve policy choices that bear on this Nation’s international relations…The dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Executive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are consistent with this Nation’s foreign policy with respect to these and other realities.”

The Court’s decision struck down three out of the four controversial provisions of SB1070, an immigration enforcement law enacted by the state of Arizona in April 2010. By doing so, the Court found that these provisions challenged by the Obama administration have been pre-empted under federal law. The single provision that was upheld is Section 2(B) of SB1070, which requires local police to investigate the legal status of suspected undocumented immigrants. The accepted way to perform these status checks is to contact ICE, which maintains a database of immigration records. The Court held that on its face the provision does not conflict with federal law and therefore is allowed to stand, although the law is to be read very narrowly. It remains to be seen how this part of the law will continue to be enforced as there has already been ample documentation of discrimination and violations based on racial profiling.

SB1070, the legislative name of the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” was designed to make “attrition through enforcement” the official policy of all state and local agencies in Arizona. Since its enactment of SB1070 two years ago, other states have followed suit and enacted similar laws under the same policy (see the March blog post). Today’s decision sends a strong message that on the issue of immigration law only the federal government has the power and authority to set the nation’s immigration policies.

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