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Practice Note
Analysis to Supreme Court’s Ruling About the Controversial Arizona Immigration Law

The Ruling


            On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled to strike down three out of the four challenged provisions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, known as SB 1070. The court’s ruling makes it clear that immigration is still held to be a federal matter and that it is the federal government’s right to set immigration policy.  This means that similar bills that have been proposed (including one in Texas) may be in danger of being left for dead or at the very least toothless and unenforceable as currently structured. 


Arizona’s immigration law is controversial mainly for the provision that allowed law officers to check the immigration status and ask for the immigration papers of those they have stopped if officers had reason to believe the individual was in the country illegally.  This, of course, led many analysts and observers to worry about the issue of “racial profiling” in these stops, as it was never made clear how law officers would be trained to recognize illegal immigrants without relying on the color of a person’s hair, eyes, or skin.  This provision is the only one to be upheld by the Supreme Court, although in a narrow way.  Clearly the issue will be revisited once the public gets a better view of how these stops will be handled, and if the Supreme Court determines that racial profiling is a legitimate issue.


            The rest of the provisions were struck down when the majority of the court ruled, in a split decision, to void three sections of SB 1070 that would have given state and local police the power to charge illegal immigrants with violating state laws for:


·        Seeking to work in Arizona without being in this country legally;

·        Failing to carry federally issued registration cards;

·        Allowing warrantless arrests if there is “probable cause” a person committed an offense that makes them removable from the country under federal law.




In our view, this makes it seem that the remaining provision is meaningless in terms of enforcement, as officers would still not have any means of arresting and detaining immigrants that are in the country illegally.  Officers who have ascertained that an immigrant is here illegally must still rely on government officials, namely the Department of Homeland Security, for detainment and removal of said illegal immigrants.


Additionally, DHS has already stated that the agency will not alter its policy of focusing enforcement on criminals and repeat offenders, and its refusal to respond to calls by local police about illegal immigrants who do not meet those standards.  What this means for Arizona residents remains to be seen, but we hope that as long as immigrants do not violate state laws then state officers will have lesser motivation for asking for papers.  This would make sense since, as stated above, the detainment and removal of an immigrant would still be in the hands of the federal government and its agencies, and these agencies have already stated their refusal to help state law enforcement.


How this decision will effect immigrants, both legal and illegal, here in Texas remains to be seen as the issue is not likely to be resolved in one tidy case.  Politicians and lawmakers on both sides have claimed that the decision supports their view of immigration policy and it is highly likely that the issue, in one form or another, will be before the Supreme Court again.


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