On Monday, the United States Supreme Court made its highly-anticipated ruling on Arizona v. United States, determining the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration laws. The Court, in a 5-3 decision (Justice Kagan did not participate in the consideration or decision) struck down three provisions of the Arizona law. The Court determined that because the power to make laws concerning immigration and alien status rests largely with the federal government, the following provisions of Arizona’s immigration law are preempted by federal law: 1. Arizona’s criminalization of failure to comply with federal alien registration requirements; 2. Arizona’s penalties for foreigners who work without authorization; and (most importantly) 3. Empowerment of law enforcement officers to arrest without a warrant anyone they have probable cause to believe is removable (deportable).
The Court did not strike down the provision of the law allowing state law enforcement to verify the immigration status of a person after making a lawful stop or arrest. However, the Court did caution that the provision could be unconstitutional depending upon how it is applied — if the law is applied to require state law enforcement to delay the release of detainees for no other reason than to verify their immigration status, that would be unconstitutional.
In the last few years, several states have passed immigration laws that are somewhat modeled after the Arizona law. Utah, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina have all passed immigration laws in the last few years, despite the Arizona lawsuits. Many of these states, including Utah, are facing lawsuits from immigrant rights groups and the federal government. Back in February, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah stayed proceedings on the Utah immigration law, pending the outcome of the Arizona case. South Carolina has already decided to move forward with implementation of its new law, including the creation of a branch of the state police that is dedicated to immigration enforcement — they even have their own nifty uniforms and marked official vehicles. In Alabama, the Governor signed a bill in May that “tweaked” their controversial immigration law; however, since the Court’s Arizona decision, Alabama shows no signs of reconsidering the provision of its law requiring police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce documentation when they are stopped.
What Does this Decision Mean for You?
Right now, Arizona, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina are all closely studying the recent decision to see whether their laws comply with the decision, or whether they will have to make adjustments in either the law or implementation. What you should know now is this: under this decision, local law enforcement cannot arrest you merely because they suspect that you are in the country illegally. Additionally, the police may only inquire as to your immigration status and demand your paperwork if you are lawfully stopped or arrested. The likely cannot, however, detain you merely to verify your immigration status (but keep in mind that if you are detained pending criminal charges and they just so happen to verify your immigration status in that time, that detention is likely permissible). If you believe you may be vulnerable to these laws, exercise caution and stay out of legal trouble. It may be a good idea to keep the telephone number of a reputable immigration attorney on you at all times.
Time will only tell what the future holds for the immigration laws in Arizona, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina. Stay tuned to this blog for updates as these states consider the impact of this decision on their laws.