On Monday, June 25, the Supreme Court ruled mostly against Arizona’s SB1070, the controversial immigration law that required the state’s law enforcement officers to seek out and detain undocumented immigrants.
In a somewhat surprising twist, the court chose to uphold the most controversial portion of the law, one that requires police officers to stop and question anyone who they suspected of being in the country illegally.
The parts of SB1070 struck down by the court would:
1) make it a state crime for undocumented immigrants not to possess registration identification
2) make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to work, apply for work, or offer their skills or services
3) allow local law enforcement officers to detain undocumented immigrants without a warrant when there’s reason to believe that the individual has committed “any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”
Upholding the federal government’s sovereignty over immigration matters, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion, “The federal power to determine immigration policy is well settled. Immigration policy can affect trade, investment, tourism, and diplomatic relations for the entire Nation, as well as the perceptions and expectations of aliens in this country who seek the full protection of its laws…. Perceived mistreatment of aliens in the United States may lead to harmful reciprocal treatment of American citizens abroad.”
In explaining immigration enforcement as the sole responsibility of the federal government, Roberts wrote, “It is fundamental that foreign countries concerned about the status, safety, and security of their nationals in the United States must be able to confer and communicate on this subject with one national sovereign, not the 50 separate States.”
“Federal law,” Roberts wrote, “makes a single sovereign responsible for maintaining a comprehensive and unified system to keep track of aliens within the Nation’s borders.”
Justice Antonin Scalia agreed in part with the court’s decision, but argued in favor of a state’s relative right to form its own immigration policy.
Both Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas argued that Arizona’s SB1070 did not violate federal sovereignty over immigration policy because no parts of it were in conflict with federal law.