Law enforcement authorities in Arizona are now required to check the immigration status of individuals they suspect are in the country illegally According to a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday, the provision in the state’s immigration law is constitutional, leaving open the possibility of a legal challenge by potential victims.
The ruling by US District Judge Susan Bolton is the latest chapter in the two-year legal battle between the state’s highest officials and the Obama administration over which level of government has ultimate authority regarding immigration policy. The Wednesday ruling affirms a decision in June by the US Supreme Court regarding the provision, which critics have called “show me your papers.”
In a statement Wednesday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) lauded Judge Bolton’s ruling, saying the provision, which is part of a broader state law, “makes a clear statement that [Arizona] will not tolerate sanctuary city policies, and will now have thousands of additional officers to collaborate with the federal government as state and local law enforcement do what they always have – enforce the law.”
The law allows law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of individuals during a legal stop or detention. Critics say it borders on racial profiling while supporters say the law is a necessary and affordable step to blocking illegal immigration, especially in an era of diminishing resources.
The provision is expected to be enacted within days. Only until then will it be tested, which could potentially lead to legal challenges.
Victim advocacy groups, such as Respect-Respeto in Phoenix, say they are organizing call centers to track possible civil rights violations. Similar efforts are underway in Georgia and Alabama where a US District Court ruling in Atlanta upheld similar provisions in those states in late August.
Michael Innis-Jiménez, a professor of Latino, immigration, and labor studies at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, says, “at this point it’s going to take a legal challenge” to ultimately block the provision, which could take months, or even years. The law passes constitutional muster because of wording that requires a documentation check of every individual who is detained on the street or in a vehicle regardless of race or ethnicity.
“On paper, they’re not discriminating. The only way to not discriminate is to ask everyone you pull over for proof of citizenship,” Mr. Innis-Jiménez says.
Signed into law in April 2010, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act – Arizona SB 1070 – became the template for other states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah, in how to crack down on illegal immigration.
The other states have adopted variations of the law, which, among other measures, requires alien residents to carry documents at all time and forces all aliens over the age of 14 to register with federal authorities.
The Arizona law was to take effect in July 2010, but legal challenges by civil rights groups and the US Department of Justice temporarily blocked enforcement. The Obama administration’s challenge carried the battle all the way to the US Supreme Court this summer.
While the provision regarding document checks was upheld, the justices struck down three other provisions of the law, including a ban on illegal immigrants soliciting work in public places and the requirement that illegal immigrants carry documentation with them at all times or face misdemeanor charges.
Judge Bolton’s ruling Wednesday includes a preliminary injunction against another provision of the law that makes it a crime to transport, shield, or harbor an illegal immigrant in Arizona.