Our VoiceImmigration

Cross-Post: Scholars Eye SB 1070 as Among Court’s “Biggest Immigration Cases Ever”


Imagine 2050 Staff • Dec 17, 2011

Originally posted by ColorLines on December 15, 2011.

On Monday the Supreme Court announced that it’s ready to settle the contentious dispute over whether states, and not just the federal government, get to have a hand in enforcing immigration law.

The Supreme Court will be examining Arizona’s SB 1070, the first law in the country that made it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant. Technically, the Supreme Court is only examining four key provisions from the broad law, including the mandate that law enforcement officers question anyone they suspect to be an undocumented immigrant. But the high court’s ruling will likely have far-reaching impacts on the lives of undocumented immigrants, and those suspected of being undocumented.

“This case has the potential for being one of the biggest immigration cases decided by the Supreme Court ever,” said Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law. “It touches on immigration. It touches on civil rights. It touches on state and federal power. And it’s got a real cast of characters too.”

One of them, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who’s been an unapologetic backer of SB 1070 and the copycats it has spawned since it became law in April 2010, praised the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the case, and defended the controversial law’s constitutionality in the face of a forceful challenge from the Department of Justice.

“I signed SB 1070 in order to give our state and local law enforcement one more tool with which to combat illegal immigration, while acting in concert with federal law and the U.S. Constitution,” Brewer said in a statement this week. “As I [signed SB 1070], I was keenly aware of the need to respect federal authority over immigration-related matters.”

Not so, the federal government has argued. The DOJ, which sued Arizona, and has also filed separate lawsuits against Utah, Alabama and South Carolina over their unique SB 1070 copycat laws, has argued that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the federal government and the federal government alone have the right to create and enforce immigration laws. The DOJ has also argued that it has an enforcement plan, explained University of Texas law professor Denise Gilman, and that state laws that funnel more people into local immigration offices siphon away resources the federal government needs to focus on its actual priorities.

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