No Victory for Arizona: Supreme Court Strikes Down Most of SB 1070 Immigration Law, Punts on "Papers Please" Provision

June 25, 2012

NIJC Calls on President Obama, Congress to Act Quickly to Protect Immigrant Families

En español

Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is pleased that three patently unconstitutional provisions in Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law were struck down today by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Court effectively put off for another day the legality of a fourth provision of the Arizona statute which is already being challenged in other lawsuits.

“We understand why the Supreme Court declined to strike down the ‘papers please’ provision of SB 1070 at this point, but people will still suffer as a result,” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “The decision allows Arizona to experiment with a law that effectively creates a police state for a lot of people in this country. While Arizona tries to find a legal way to enforce an unconstitutional law, many Latinos and other citizens will be unfairly targeted and detained.”

Arizona’s attorneys preserved the state’s “papers please” provision – section 2(B) – only by reinterpreting those provisions so as to pass constitutional muster. Arizona’s statute prevents a person from being “released” from arrest or detention before the person’s immigration status is determined.  Such a rule, said the Supreme Court, would likely be unconstitutional. However, Arizona’s attorneys argued that its courts might “construe” the law to allow release rather than detention. Therefore, the Supreme Court found that it should not strike down that provision before giving the Arizona courts an opportunity to clarify the law.

Because immigration law is so complex, NIJC believes that law enforcement officials trying to make the “reasonable suspicion” determinations called for by SB1070 will rely on stereotypes and racial profiling. Though racial profiling is inherent in the “papers please” provision, it was not an issue in the case at the Supreme Court.  Civil rights challenges to the statute on these grounds are already filed in the federal district courts, and have been on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision today.

“SB 1070 was designed to make life difficult for Arizona’s immigrants, so that they would choose to leave the United States voluntarily," said NIJC Director of Litigation Chuck Roth. “The Supreme Court today sent a message to Arizona and states like Alabama, that this kind of law will not be permitted.  However, the Supreme Court found that it had to allow Arizona to try to reinterpret the ‘papers please’ provision before it could be struck down. We are deeply concerned about how this provision will play out on the ground before it is resolved in the courts.”

NIJC calls on the Obama administration to monitor vigilantly any state actions implementing this provision, because civil rights violations will surely occur.  Of course, the best solution is for Congress to pass national immigration reform that meets the needs of families, workers, and our economy.