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Federal Court Ruling on Arizona's Immigration Law


    National attention has been focused on SB 1070, the Arizona immigration law that was scheduled to go into effect on July 29, 2010.  On July 28, 2010, the United States District Court in Phoenix ruled that the key portions of the Arizona law are unconstitutional in a lawsuit brought by the federal government seeking to block the Arizona law.  The following day, the state of Arizona appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and requested expedited consideration, which was denied.  The case will be heard by the Ninth Circuit in November, 2010.

    The District Court ruled that the primary parts of the law are unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to establish uniform laws regarding immigration.  The federal government argued that immigration laws should be uniform, rather than allowing a patchwork of 50 state laws and potentially countless local ordinances addressing immigration. 

    The enactment of SB 1070 in Arizona is at the crest of a wave of immigration legislation in state legislatures.  The National Conference of State Legislators reports that during the first half of 2010, 1,374 bills were introduced in the legislatures of the 50 states, with 319 laws being passed in 44 of those states.  During 2009, 353 immigration laws were passed by state legislatures, nearly 10 times the 38 immigration laws passed during 2005.
    With so much immigration legislation being enacted at the state level, and a stalemate in Congress, lawsuits are inevitable and plentiful to define what authority state and local governments may exercise under the Constitution.  An answer may come as early as the next term of the U.S. Supreme Court.

   Already pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is a challenge to a 2007 Arizona law that would suspend or revoke business licenses for employing undocumented persons.  That case will be heard by the Supreme Court this winter, with a decision expected by June 2011.  It is likely that the Supreme Court's decision regarding the 2007 Arizona employer's sanctions law will foreshadow whether the new Arizona immigration law and similar laws are constitutional.
    Specifically, the portions of Arizona's SB 1070 that were blocked by the District Court include the following provisions:

  •  Requiring law enforcement to determine the immigration status of those encountered during a stop, detention or arrest if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that the person might be an alien;
  • Creating a crime under state law for aliens who do not carry documentation establishing their authorization to be in the United States;
  • Allowing police to make an arrest without a warrant when the police officer believes the person is subject to removal from the United States;
  • Making it a crime for a day laborer to seek employment if that caused a vehicle to impede traffic.
   The Court ruled that the above provisions conflict with federal immigration law and will burden federal immigration authorities with countless checks of the immigration status of persons encountered by Arizona law enforcement, whereas the federal government places its highest priority on immigration checks for national security reasons and for those implicated in terrorism or serious crimes.

   The most significant provisions of the law that were not enjoined by the Court and that became effective on July 29, 2010, are the following:

  •  prohibiting local governments in Arizona from limiting the enforcement of immigration laws;
  • making it a crime to transport or harbor a person known to be undocumented;
  • making it a crime to impede traffic while picking up a day laborer;
  • allowing private citizens to sue the state and local governments if they have adopted a practice that fails to enforce immigration laws to the maximum extent and imposing fines of $5,000 per day on local governments for doing so;
  • making minor revisions in the Arizona Employer's Sanctions Law.  
   The Court issued its injunction in the lawsuit brought by the federal government.  The Court has not yet issued a ruling in about a half a dozen other lawsuits by civil rights groups, local governments and others challenging the law.

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August 03, 2010