A Legal Recap of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Holding on Arizona’s Immigration Law S.B. 1070


The United States Supreme Court issued a 5-3 opinion today partially overturning Arizona’s Immigration law S.B. 1070. The Supreme Court addressed four main issues surrounding S.B. 1070.

The first issue addressed whether it was constitutional for a state to enact a laws enforcing federal immigration law. The law in question stated that if a person failed to register and carry documents verifying his or her legal status, the person could be charged with a misdemeanor. The Supreme Court overturned S.B. 1070 section 3 finding that State governments were preempted from enacting and enforcing laws governing immigration. The Court reasoned the Courts had already addressed the issue of alien registration and requirements that forced aliens to carry identification cards in Hines v. Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52. The Court also reasoned that Congress had already created and enacted laws addressing an alien’s failure to register, and thus, Arizona’s S.B. 1070 section 3 was preempted. Finally, the Court reasoned that if it allowed S.B. 1070 section 3 to remain in effect, the state of Arizona would power to enforce its own immigration policies in conflict with federal law.

The second issue the Supreme Court addressed was whether S.B. 1070 section 5(c) violated the Constitution. S.B. 1070 section 5(c) makes it a misdemeanor for an illegal alien to solicit work or performs work in the U.S. for an employer or as a contractor. The Supreme Court overturned S.B. 1070 section 5(c) stating that section 5(c) directly conflicts with the enforcement of federal law. Under federal law, employers may not knowingly hire, recruit, refer or continue to employ unauthorized workers and makes it a federal crime for illegal aliens to obtain employment through fraudulent means. However, federal law does not provide penalties on aliens who seek or engage in unauthorized employment. The Court reasoned that Congress would have created and enforced such penalties against illegal aliens if it felt it was necessary and thus, Arizona’s law was a conflict of technique in enforcement of the laws and therefore was unconstitutional.

Additionally, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether S.B. 1070 section 6 violated the Constitution. S.B. 1070 section 6 allowed police officers to make arrests of individuals without a warrant if the officer had probable cause to believe the person committed a crime that makes him or her removable from the U.S. The Court overturned the law finding that federal law provides that an alien may be arrested without a warrant and detained for removal only when the alien is in violation of immigration law and is likely to escape custody before a warrant is attained. However, S.B. 1070 section 6 provided state and local police a great deal more authority in allowing state and local officers to arrest aliens without a warrant, regardless of whether a federal warrant is present or the alien is likely to escape. The Court reasoned that Arizona’s law could be enforced without any input from the Federal Government, thus allowing Arizona to achieve its own immigration policies, in conflict with the U.S. Constitution.

The last issue the Supreme Court addressed determined whether S.B. 1070 section 6(b)’s requirement that an officer determine the immigration status of a stopped, arrested or detained person was constitutional. Arizona’s S.B. 1070 section 6(b) stated that if a state officer has a reasonable suspicion that a lawfully stopped, arrested or detained person is an alien or unlawfully present in the U.S., the officer must make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of that person.

The Supreme Court was guided in making its decision on S.B. 1070 section 6(b) based on three limitations on the Arizona law. The first limit stated that anyone who provided a valid Arizona state license or similar identification would be presumed lawfully present in the state. The second limit prohibited officers from taking race, color or national origin into consideration when determining whether to proceed with a status verification, except as permitted by the U.S. Constitution. Finally, the third limit required that S.B. 1070 section 6(b) be implemented in accordance with the U.S. constitution, federal law, the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens and the civil rights of all persons.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld S.B. 1070 section 6(b) stating that mandatory status verification did not interfere with the federal immigration scheme. The Court reasoned that States may routinely share information regarding the immigration status of detainees and arrestees with the federal government. Additionally, the Supreme Court also held that any concerns that S.B. 1070 section 6(b) would unreasonably delay the release of individuals while the status verification process was conducted were unfounded. The Court reasoned that Arizona’s law did not require status verification to be completed during the stop, detention or arrest. Finally, the Court left open the discussion of whether S.B. 1070 section 6(b) could be challenged in the future and found that at this time the State courts had not provided enough definitive interpretation on how the law would be construed to determine if it would be in conflict with federal law.

Ultimately, there are concerns for both lawful citizens and legal immigrants with the Supreme Court’s holding on S.B. 1070. The Supreme Court found S.B. 1070 section 6(b) was constitutional based on its three limits. However, the second limit provides that officers cannot base their decision to detain a person for status verification on race, color or national origin. Yet, the law provides no other determination for making the decision to detain a person for status verification other than the officer’s own “reasonable suspicion that the individual being stopped, detained or arrested is an illegal alien”.

Based on past experience, those individual who come to the U.S. illegally usually are wise enough to switch their Mexican license plates over to U.S. plates before driving around the Arizona desert. So, what other facts provide an officer with “reasonable suspicion that an individual being stopped, detained or arrested is an illegal alien” other than the individual’s accent, language, color of his or her skin, and national origin?

Even though S.B. 1070(b)(6) states that an officer cannot perform a status verification based on race, color or national origin, the Supreme Court justices have conveniently ignored the fact that human beings in the form of state officers make the determination to conduct status verifications. Also, the Supreme Court justices have turned a blind eye to the fact that other than the glaringly obvious foreign license plate, officers will now have the power to detain individuals for status verification based on racial profiling. Ultimately, S.B. 1070(b)(6) provides a disproportionate application of a legal process to those who have legal justification to be here. Thus, at Peek and Toland we believe the U.S. Supreme Court should have found S.B. 1070(6)(b) unconstitutional because it provides the State of Arizona with immigration enforcement powers and provides state officers with the power to enforce immigration law in conflict with the spirit of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protections provisions and the right of the public to be protected from unreasonable searches.

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