The Supreme Court ruling on the Arizona immigration law may have its greatest impact on how it affects copycat laws across the country. The harshest of the ones already passed, in Alabama, faces some challenges after the court ruling.
The split decision left both sides of Alabama’s fierce immigration debate declaring victory and lawyers saying it will take more analysis and likely litigation to determine the full impact on the state’s statute.
Opponents of Alabama’s immigration law called the ruling a blow to states’ efforts to enact such statutes.
“I think the great majority of Alabama’s law is just doomed. It cannot stand in the wake of this decision,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups challenging Alabama’s law.
“The court sent a strong message that states can’t enact their own immigration policy the way that Arizona had attempted to do and the way that Alabama had attempted to do. The decision certainly strengthens our argument as to why Alabama’s (law) is unconstitutional,” said Justin Cox, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
By contrast, Alabama conservatives claimed that the “core of the (Arizona) law remains,” but that’s not really the case. The principle of the primacy of federal immigration policy over policies in the states was definitely affirmed. As for the “show me your papers” part of the law, it was narrowed and limited, and further action on that part of the law was merely delayed, until construed by state courts and monitored for Constitutional violations.
What’s more, the Court reversed two provisions that mirror positions in Alabama – “one that banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places and another that made it a state crime to fail to carry alien registration documents.” This is the downside of an ALEC approach to governing on the right. If one model legislation gets taken down by judicial review, eventually all of them will. You can see this with states where conservatives have proposed but not yet passed immigration statutes, places like Pennsylvania.
Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration law would affect about half of the anti-illegal-immigrant bills pending before the Pennsylvania Legislature, says one close observer.
“Half could be a big problem if they were to pass,” said Nadia Hewka, an attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and chairwoman of the board of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. The bills would likely be challenged, then struck down, she said.
The other Pennsylvania bills touch on issues that are not covered in Monday’s Arizona decision, she said. However, she added that they, too, could be affected by the “spirit” of Monday’s decision because the overall message is that federal law trumps state law.
It would only take a couple additional rulings before the futility of passing patchwork immigration laws at the state level is realized. And those opposed to these bills have a powerful argument to make, that the bill shouldn’t pass because the Supreme Court will simply find it unconstitutional, at much time and expense to the state.
In a related story, the Justice Department pulled back on the Arizona component of 287(g), a program where federal immigration officials can deputize local law enforcement to make arrests for immigration violations. You can obviously see how that would intersect with an upheld “papers please” portion of SB1070. So only federal officials in Arizona can make arrests solely on immigration violations.
UPDATE: More on this dynamic, and a list of the states who have completed or are working on Arizona-style immigration laws, from Ian Gordon.