The people have long demanded action to combat illegal immigration, but the federal government has continued its refusal to protect our national integrity. States have therefore become active in proposing enforcement measures.
In 2010, the State of Arizona passed SB 1070, known as “The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.” The law makes it a misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying required documents, mandates that law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant, prohibits state officials or agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws and penalizes those hiring or transporting illegal aliens.
Similar measures have been adopted in Utah, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
In response, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on July 6, 2010, requesting that it be declared invalid since it interferes with powers vested in the federal government. The day before it was to take effect, a judge issued a preliminary injunction, blocking some of the provisions.
Recognizing that the federal government has no real intention of acting on the issue of immigration, Arizona has fought to reverse that decision. The Supreme Court, in December of 2011, agreed to consider the case; and oral arguments were scheduled for April 25, 2012.
During argument, the Court indicated that parts – if not all – of SB 1070 would be allowed to survive, with justices directing difficult questions toward the government’s attorneys. It became obvious that the majority was skeptical. They disagreed with the contention that states may not mandate their law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws and detain illegal aliens, and the Justice Department had a difficult time convincing them that Arizona was unlawfully trying to enforce federal immigration policy.
Dismayed with the government’s position, Chief Justice John Roberts responded, “it is not an effort to enforce federal law. It is an effort to let you know about violations of federal law.” He then continued: “It seems to me that the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally and who’s not.”
Others were quick to join the discussion, agreeing with Justice Roberts.
“What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?” Justice Antonin Scalia asked. “What’s wrong about the states enforcing federal law? There is a federal law against robbing federal banks. Can it be made a state crime to rob those banks? I think it is.”
Even one of the Court’s most liberal members appeared to clash with part of the government’s argument.
When it was suggested that the federal government has exclusive authority over immigration matters, Justice Sonia Sotomayor remarked, “you can see it’s not selling very well; why don’t you try to come up with something else?”
Given the above, SB 1070 is likely to be found constitutional.
There is nothing improper with states prohibiting actions already prohibited by federal law, just as there is nothing wrong in assisting with enforcement when such laws are broken. Instead of preempting federal authority, states are merely practicing concurrent enforcement, as more than one jurisdiction has authority over the issue.
While the American experience has been greatly enriched by immigrants seeking to come to America in search of freedom and opportunity, it is essential that our republic remain a nation of laws. Unlawful behavior must not be condoned.
Whether or not one favors SB 1070 is immaterial; respect for the Constitution requires that states retain the prerogative to experiment and innovate.
The immigration system is broken and needs to be repaired, but not at the expense of federalism and state sovereignty.
***** State Senator Chris McDaniel