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U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Most of SB 1070’s Unfair and Discriminatory Provisions - “Show Me Your Papers” Stands, But Will Face State Court Scrutiny and Further Legal Challenges

In a blow to the state anti-immigration movement, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a long-awaited and positive decision in Arizona v. United States, the challenge to Arizona’s discriminatory and unconstitutional SB 1070 law. By a 5-3 margin, the Court struck down three of the four provisions of SB 1070 that were challenged by the Obama administration. The state may not make it a crime to lack immigration documents; may not criminalize seeking or performing work while undocumented; and may not allow its police to arrest without a warrant anyone that they believe may be deportable. The Court ruled in a very cautionary way, however, that the “show-me-your-papers” provision remains constitutional if implemented narrowly – this is the provision which allows police to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws if "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person is in the United States illegally.

The Supreme Court’s decision and the issues it addresses
The decision reaffirmed the long-standing principle that only the federal government may determine immigration law, and states are prohibited from making laws that contravene federal immigration policy. This is because in order to be effective and to avoid conflict with national border control and foreign relations priorities, immigration law must provide us with one uniform set of rules instead of a patchwork of different state laws. The Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona v. United States made no determination whether SB 1070 violates constitutional prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, and against unjustified, unreasonable arrests and detention. The NALEO Educational Fund anticipates that implementation of the “show-me-your-papers” provision may be temporarily halted once again while Arizona courts consider these remaining issues. If this provision is allowed to take effect, however, the Supreme Court has strictly limited its operation. State and local law enforcement officials may make inquiries about the immigration status of individuals they stop for lawful reasons, but they may not detain individuals for extended periods solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status. Nor may they stop someone just because they believe the person might be an undocumented immigrant.

The impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on other state “copycat” measures
To date, onerous state immigration enforcement laws have been enacted in five states besides Arizona: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. Generally, these laws create new state crimes and civil violations tied to immigration status, and give state and local law enforcement officers optional or mandatory power to investigate status and participate in immigration enforcement. The decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 affects these other state immigration laws, but in each case, other outstanding issues also remain to be resolved through lawsuits in progress.

Help continue the fight against unfair state immigration measures!
The NALEO Educational Fund urges Latino elected officials and community leaders to work to halt the spread of state immigration enforcement laws. To help you educate your constituents and stakeholders about the Supreme Court decision, SB 1070, and “copycat” laws, you can find talking points (click here) we have prepared on the issue. These talking points include a table which compares various state copycat laws, and indicates which contain provisions similar to those invalidated by the Supreme Court decision.

Increased state involvement in immigration enforcement undermines public safety, the economy, and democracy.
In order to effectively protect communities against criminal and dangerous behavior, law enforcement agencies must gain individuals’ trust and cooperation. Victims and other law-abiding people avoid law enforcement personnel, however, when they fear that any contact may result in them or their family members being apprehended or detained for a federal immigration law violation. “Show-me-your-papers” laws have seriously impaired police effectiveness in the states in which they have been implemented, not only because victims of crime fear contacting police, but also because law enforcement agencies must divert precious resources away from their public safety duties in order to conduct immigration enforcement.

State immigration laws have proven costly and economically damaging.
States that have implemented “show-me-your-papers” laws have experienced boycotts and massive departures of workers that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue. Further, by dividing communities and sewing fear and mistrust, state immigration enforcement laws discourage civic participation and weaken democracy.

While failing to promote safety and security in our communities, SB 1070 and copycat laws have succeeded in encouraging racial profiling and separating American families.

Local law enforcement officers do not have the training necessary to make sound assessments of whether particular individuals are authorized to be in the United States. The Supreme Court decision does note that it is unlawful for police officers to consider race or ethnicity when they conduct immigration status checks. However, in practice, experience has shown that some police do rely on stereotypes that equate race and ethnicity with immigration status. In these cases, Latinos are most likely to be suspected of being undocumented, and more likely than people of any other race or ethnicity to be stopped, interrogated, and investigated by officers who are told to play a role in immigration enforcement. When this happens, Latinos parents and spouses are the ones most likely to suffer, and to be taken away from the children and other family members – often US citizens and legal residents – who rely upon them for critical support.

These effects of state immigration enforcement laws – mistrust, division of families and communities, and contraction of economic opportunities – are un-American.
Our strength as a nation comes from our commitment to equality, unity, and opportunity for all. Our interests are best served by policies that, unlike SB 1070, help new Americans integrate into our economy and society, learn English, and become fully-contributing citizens.

In the concluding section of its opinion, the Supreme Court noted our history as a nation of immigrants and stated: “Immigration policy shapes the destiny of the nation …. The history of the United States is in part made of the stories, talents and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here.” Our future lies in continuing to welcome and integrate the diversity of immigrants from around the world who have made our country the beacon of freedom and opportunity that it is today.


As a Latino elected official or community leader, you can play a crucial role in promoting state policies which enhance opportunities for hard-working immigrants to make positive contributions to our communities:

1) Educate your constituents and stakeholders about the unconstitutionality of most of the Arizona law and its copycats, and about the harmful effects of state involvement in immigration enforcement. We have provided talking points (click here) and our press release (click here) for your efforts.

2) Officials in states conducting immigration enforcement activities can share with colleagues and constituents the Department of Justice’s
bilingual hotline number for reporting concerns with implementation
of these laws: 855-353-1010, or sb1070@usdoj.gov.

3) We urge your active support for reengaging Congress, which has sole constitutional responsibility for setting the nation’s immigration policy, in fixing our broken immigration system. If you would like to assist us by reaching out to members of Congress or the Administration when urgent policy developments occur, please contact Ms. Erin Hustings, Senior Policy Analyst, (202) 546-2536, ehustings@naleo.org. Ms. Hustings can also provide you with any additional information you need about the Supreme Court decision, SB 1070, and other state copycat measures.


SB1070 and Copycat Legislation Toolkit (Word) (PDF)

Download individual sections of tool kit:

Overview of SB 1070 and copycat legislation
The detrimental impact to public safety
The hidden costs of SB 1070 – like legislation
The infringement on citizen’s rights
Media resources
Additional Resources
and Appendix

For more information please contact:

Erin Hustings
Senior Policy Analyst
NALEO Educational Fund

600 Pennsylvania Ave, SE
Suite 230
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 546-2536
Email: ehustings@naleo.org

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