Controversial US immigration law heads to Supreme Court

- Posted in America by Visa Bureauon 25 April 2012

The argument, between the state of Arizona and the Obama administration, centres on whether the duties and limits applied to local law enforcement within Arizona is provocative. The result, considered largely unpredictable, is likely to have far reaching ramifications which exceed US immigration laws.

The state of Arizona argues that, as the nation's busiest point of entry for illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, it bears a disproportionate burden in the enforcement of the nation's laws.

"Arizona bears the brunt of the problems caused by illegal immigration. It is the gateway for nearly half of the nation's illegal border crossings," said Arizona state officials.

"Beyond the obvious safety issues, the fiscal burdens imposed by the disproportionate impact of illegal immigration on Arizona are daunting. Arizona spends several hundred million dollars each year incarcerating criminal aliens and providing education and healthcare to aliens who entered and reside in the country in violation of federal law."

The Obama administration argues that SB 1070 encourages racial profiling, wastes law enforcement officials' time and fosters disparity within local communities with significant immigrant populations.

Beyond the local level, the Obama administration argues that immigration law should remain in control of the federal (national) government to prevent states enforcing radically different immigration laws which would be tantamount to states determining their own foreign policies.

Furthermore, the law's effects on America's international reputation are also disputed. The Obama administration argues that relations with other countries, particularly countries with high numbers of migrants in America, will come under threat.

The bill, signed into law in April 2010, initially faced several legal challenges by civil rights groups as well as one by the US Department of Justice. The day before the law was due to come into effect, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the law's stricter measures.

The four provisions whose constitutionality will be scrutinised by the Supreme Court are:

  • A requirement that local law enforcements investigate a person's immigration status if they have 'reasonable suspicion' regarding their legality.
  • Allowing police to arrest suspected immigrants without a warrant where the officer has probable cause that the immigrant committed a public offence.
  • A requirement for all immigrants to carry registration papers.
  • A ban on the hiring, applying for or performing of any work by, or for, an illegal immigrant.

The Mexican government, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the city of Tucson, Arizona are backing the Obama administration's attempts to overturn the law.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law, said she remained confident that the Supreme Court would uphold the law. However, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said if the Supreme Court upheld the law, he would introduce a bill that would prevent states from enacting their own immigration laws.

SB 1070 has been involved in a legal wrangle since its proposal yet, despite heading to the highest court in the nation, it still may not be resolved as Elena Kagan, associate justice of the Supreme Court, has recused herself from the case, meaning a 4-4 court split is possible.

Whatever the outcome, it is likely to influence the upcoming presidential election in which US immigration looks set to be second only to the economy in terms of debated issues. President Obama's failure to secure the widespread immigration reform he promised in 2008 has caused some to think his previously secure position among Hispanic voters may be up for grabs while Republican contender Mitt Romney, who described SB 1070 as a 'model for the nation' in January is making significant efforts to soften his rhetoric on immigration.

President Obama has once again promised to 'try to' secure the reform if he is elected to a second term while Mitt Romney's courting of Republican Senator Marco Rubio as a potential running mate has brought the immigration argument onto a much more even platform.

The potential for SB 1070 to disrupt that balance once more is unquestionable.

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries make their ESTA application.