Supreme Court Urged to Strike Down Arizona's Immigration Law

Court Should Strike Down Arizona Immigration Law,  Say Scholars, Advocates and 11 State AGs

Supreme_Court_rallyApril 25, 2012 BOSTONLegal experts in Massachusetts today joined with civil rights leaders, clergy, immigrant rights advocates, and 11 state attorneys general across the nation, including Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, in urging the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the ban on the most egregious parts of SB1070, Arizona's  radical and destructive immigration law. Experts have protested that the law unconstitutionally usurps the power of the federal government to make and enforce immigration law, and that it mandates discriminatory treatment based on people's look and accent. As the New York Times editorial board wrote on Sunday, "its enforcement provisions essentially turn all Hispanics, including American citizens and legal residents, into criminal suspects."

Today the Supreme Court begins to hear oral arguments in the case of Arizona v. United States, which will determine the constitutionality of four parts of the law that were put on hold by the Ninth Circuit Court. Arizona is now appealing the decision on the four provisions. They would:

  • Require police to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if the officer has “reasonable suspicion that the person is an alien and is unlawfully present."
  • Make it a state crime for anyone to intentionally fail to obtain and carry immigration papers in the state.
  • Make it a misdemeanor under state law for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job, publicly solicit a job, or actually work in the state.
  • Allow police to arrest anyone, without a warrant, if the officer has “probable cause to believe” that the individual is subject to being deported.

"The Arizona law is discriminatory and fundamentally un-American," said Laura Rotolo, Staff Attorney of the ACLU of Massachusetts. "It unlawfully interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, it invites racial profiling against people of color in violation of the equal protection guarantee and the prohibition on unreasonable seizures, and it violates the First Amendment right of free speech of day laborers and others.”

Among the arguments against the law is a joint amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court last month by 11 state attorneys general. (In alphabetical order, the states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont). In the 35-page brief, the attorneys general argue that Arizona's law "disregards the federal requirement" that state assistance in immigration matters "proceed under federal oversight." By determining on its own who may be removed and how, Arizona undermines the U.S. Constitution's authorization of Congress in Article 1 "to establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization."

Iris Gomez, Attorney with the Mass Law Reform Institute, notes that this usurpation is more than a question of jurisdiction: “One of the troubling aspects of local enforcement laws such as Arizona’s is that they interfere with the federal government’s ability to balance enforcement priorities with other underlying principles, such as family unity, that have historically humanized our federal immigration laws. These state laws eliminate the role of balance in the system altogether and instead mandate enforcement-only in virtually every circumstance.”

"In order to protect the authority of the Constitution, and to prevent discriminatory treatment based on appearance, the Supreme Court should strike down this law,"  concludes Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). "If this and other similar state laws are rightly ruled unconstitutional, we will have stopped our descent into a contradictory patchwork of 50 different immigration laws, and be able to focus on reform through Congress so we have one rational, humane and effective immigration system."