Published by the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues in Phoenix, Arizona
|By Eduardo Barraza | April 23, 2012
|HISTORY IS ABOUT
|Arizona vs. United States: the struggle for
preemption on immigration laws
Phoenix, Arizona – The legislative war Arizona politicians declared on illegal immigration a
decade and a half ago will reverberate all the way to the highest court in the United States,
when Supreme Court justices hear arguments about the controversial and divisive
immigration law SB 1070.
It was in 1996 when the Arizona State Legislature launched an offensive to try to stop and
fight the flow of undocumented immigrants by enacting a law that, for the first time, would
require applicants proving legal status in order to get an Arizona drivers license. The man
behind that historic traffic law was the same man behind the SB 1070 law: recalled senator
That traffic law represented the legislative genesis of a systematic persecution based on
anti-immigrant laws by Arizona against thousands of undocumented people. This would
reach a climax of political conflict and social protest in 2010, when SB 1070 was signed into
Today, the legal battle against the SB 1070 law —considered the most severe legislation
against illegal immigrants two years ago— has called upon the Supreme Court justices to
serve as arbitrators in a context of growing confrontation between state government and
On Wednesday, April 25 —two years since SB 1070 was signed into law by Governor Jan
Brewer— the justices will hear legal arguments around a law suit filed by the state of
Arizona. The justices will then make a decision about the conflict between state and federal
laws that will be without a doubt historic.
Arizona vs. United States
The legal core of this political whirlwind rests in deciding if states have a right to create their
own laws to fight against illegal immigration, or if the federal government has preemption
when it comes to immigration laws. The Supreme Court’s decision, which is expected to be
announced in the summer, will establish a precedent that will either encourage or
discourage states from enacting their own immigration laws.
The law suit was filed by Arizona government against the federal government after an
Arizona circuit district judge enjoined some SB 1070 provisions to prevent being
implemented on July 29, 2010, when part of the law went into effect.
By bringing a law suit against the United States, Arizona is seeking to have the Supreme
Court unblock the enjoined provisions of SB 1070, as well as validate its right to create its
own laws to fight against illegal immigration in the state.
Other states like Utah, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have followed in Arizona’s
footsteps by enacting copycat laws traced from SB 1070.
“Reasonable suspicion” and racial profiling
SB 1070 has been widely debated in the courts as well as protested against or in favor on
the streets, where massive demonstrations and heated verbal arguments have been
aroused among supporters and opponents. SB 1070 attracted wide international attention
and confirmed Arizona as the ground zero of the national immigration debate.
At least in theory for now, SB 1070 seeks to bring an “attrition through enforcement” to
cause undocumented immigrants to leave Arizona —and even the country— through a harsh
local immigration enforcement.
SB 1070 would require police officers to ask everyone they stop about their immigration
status, as long as they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country
Opponents of SB 1070 project this provision alone, if unblocked and put into practice, would
encourage racial profiling, which is based on using a person’s race and physical appearance
to make a traffic stop and an arrest.
In many cases, racial profiling has led to the unlawful arrest of lawful immigrants and even
United States citizens, whom were wrongly targeted because an officer had a “reasonable
suspicion” that they were in the country illegally, on the basis of their race.
|Video: Civil disobedience against SB 1070 - April 25, 2012
Founded in 2002
Published by the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues
|SB 1070 seeks to bring an “attrition through enforcement” to cause undocumented
immigrants to leave Arizona —and even the country— through a harsh local
immigration enforcement. Photo by Eduardo Barraza