06/25/2012

Supreme Court Decision Major Blow to Anti-Immigrant Laws

Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a blow to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law and similar copycat laws that have sprung up in other states. The court’s decision affirms that much about these laws is unconstitutional because many of their provisions are preempted by federal law. The decision also shows the court has significant concerns about the one provision they allowed to stand.

The court’s ruling this morning struck down three provisions and upheld only one provision of Arizona’s unconstitutional anti-immigrant law. Arizona’s law has served as a model for similar laws in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – states where the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights groups have filed lawsuits challenging those laws.

The Supreme Court ruled that much of Arizona’s law, specifically sections 3, 5 and 6, is in direct conflict with federal immigration law and is therefore unconstitutional.

In its ruling, the court wrote, “With power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the Nation’s meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse. Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

The justices were concerned that the one provision they upheld -- a requirement that police check the immigration status of people they detain if they have “reasonable suspicion” of undocumented status -- could prove to be unconstitutional as well. The court said, “Detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns.”

Other states followed Arizona’s lead by passing their own anti-immigrant laws. Here’s where things stand with three states where the SPLC has filed suit:

Alabama passed H.B. 56, which includes three provisions similar to those considered in the Arizona case: police inquiries into immigration status; criminalizing being present in the state without immigration papers; and criminalizing soliciting work.

Several other provisions have no overlap with those considered in the Arizona case, including: requiring inquiries into immigration status of students and their parents; criminalizing day laborer activities; criminalizing helping undocumented immigrants; criminalizing certain transactions with public officials by undocumented immigrants; and making many contracts unenforceable if they involve undocumented immigrants.

All these provisions have been blocked, except the requirement of police to inquire into immigration status. An appeal is pending in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The precise impact of the Arizona decision will be decided by the Eleventh Circuit later this year.

Georgia passed H.B. 87, which includes one provision similar to those considered in the Arizona case: police inquiries into immigration status.

H.B. 87 also criminalizes helping undocumented immigrants, which has no overlap with the questions decided in the Arizona case. All these provisions were blocked by the district court, and an appeal is pending in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The precise impact of the Arizona decision will be decided by the Eleventh Circuit later this year.

South Carolina passed S.B. 20, which includes two provisions similar to those considered in the Arizona case: police inquiries into immigration status, and criminalizing being present in the state without immigration papers.

S.B. 20 also criminalizes helping undocumented immigrants, which has no overlap with the questions decided in the Arizona case. All these provisions were blocked by the district court, and an appeal is pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The precise impact of the Arizona decision will be decided by the Fourth Circuit later this year.

The one thing that is clear from today’s ruling is that the fight against these hateful anti-immigrant laws is far from over.