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News, Politics

SB 1070 and Arizona v. United States: The Decision That Will Redefine Immigration

Today the United States Supreme Court wraps up its term until October by opening oral arguments on the legalities of the controversial Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, also known as S.B. 1070, the toughest state laws on illegal immigrantion in the United States.

It was two years ago this week – April 23rd, 2010 – when Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed the legislature’s measure into law.  She cited that the law came after escalating problems due to the federal government’s failure to control the flow of illegal immigration along the Mexican/US borders, leading to security concerns and the cost of maintaining illegal immigrants. She furthered argued that the law simply granted additional powers to local police and state law enforcement officials to enforce already in place federal laws.  In essence, the state of Arizona will do what they claim the federal government failed to do.

Opponents have claimed the law would lead to legalized racial profiling of all Hispanics in states where such laws could exist as well as making law-abiding non-citizens criminals.  The Department of Justice sued Arizona on the grounds that it overstepped it bounds.  Immigration policy, according to the Department of Justice, was a federal – not state – responsibilty and issue.  In the end, the issue will return to a debate as old as the United States itself: where do we draw the line between state rights and federal rights?

Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah passed similar laws to S.B. 1070, but their enforcement of their laws is on hold pending the results of the Supreme Court case. Twenty-two other states across the United States have introduced or considered introducing their own forms of S.B. 1070 into their state legislatures. For record, there are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

(Watch a CNN interview with Kirk Adams, the former Arizona House Speaker on his defense of SB 1070.)

On July 28th, 2010 – the day before the law went into effect – US District Judge Susan Bolton blocked four controversial provisions of the bill that will now be evaluated by the Supreme Court:

  • Section 2(B): Law enforcement officers would be allowed to ask for immigration papers – or proof of US citizenship – of anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being an illegal immigrant.
  • Section 3: Carrying immigration papers would be a state law; violation by non-citizens would be a criminal offense.
  • Section 5(c): The law would make it illegal for an undocumented non-citizen to apply for or solicit a job, especially if they gesture or nod that they are interested in acting.
  • Section 6: If there is probable cause, law enforcement could arrest someone without warrant if they believe the person committed a deportable offense.

If the court rules in favor of Arizona, then the Arizona law goes into effect as well as other state laws similar to S.B. 1070 in other states. The United States would have varying degrees of immigration laws across the United States.  If the court rules in favor of the Department of Justice, then the federal goverment must create a unifying set of laws and holds the final authority on immigration law.

This Supreme Court case comes just as the Pew Hispanic Research Center announced a startling revelation: Between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans migrated to the United States. But the number of Mexicans returning back to Mexico? 1.4 million. After four decades, Mexican migration reached net zero, and trends show that the flow of immigration will reverse, seeing more Mexicans return to Mexico than coming to the United States. A number of factors are cited, such as the weak US economy and the changing Mexican economy, the rise in deportations, and the increased risks of crossing the border.

Because Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen is sitting out the case due to conflicts of interest working on the case as Solicitor General, the most likely outcome could be a split vote that would uphold the lower courts decision to keep the four provisions blocked. The Supreme Court today opened with skepticism on the Obama administration’s arguments on the provisions allowing police officers to check the immigration status of possible illegals as well as the provision on arresting a non-citizen on a criminal offense.

The final decision is expected in June, around the same time as the landmark decision on the Obama Health Care law will be delivered.

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About Richard L. Vargas

Among many things, I'm a writer, blogger, news junkie, and pop culture enthusiast from New York City.

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