Immigration Bill Sparks Protests in Arizona, Around Country

Even before Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, protests against the contentious immigration bill already had begun at the state’s capitol with more than 100 people gathering to urge the governor to veto it. On April 20, Arizona police arrested nine college students who had chained themselves to the Capitol Building’s doors, declaring that they would not unchain themselves until the Governor vetoed the bill.

However, Gov. Brewer did not follow the actions of her predecessor, former Arizona governor and current Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, and veto the bill. Instead, on April 23, Gov. Brewer signed the controversial immigration measure into law and secured Arizona’s place as front and center in the fight over U.S. immigration reform.

New protests against the bill began almost immediately. The same day the bill became law, President Obama spoke out against it, saying it threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

Several California cities, including Oakland, San Francisco, and most recently Los Angeles, have declared boycotts against Arizona and have passed formal resolutions not to enter into any new contracts with Arizona-based businesses. Other organizations, including the National Council of La Raza, have urged broader boycotts of Arizona tourism, which nearly 30 other organizations have agreed to support.

Protests also have been waged in other U.S. cities against the law. In New York, more than 6,500 gathered to protest the bill while a rally in Los Angeles brought together more than 50,000 to voice their opposition to Arizona’s immigration law and demand the federal government take action against it.

Arizona’s immigration law also is making news in other countries. In Mexico, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that it was concerned about the safety of Mexican citizens living in the U.S. as well as the country’s relations with Arizona. In the U.K., one newspaper referred to the bill as “draconian.”

What Does SB 1070 Do?

The most controversial provision of SB 1070 allows Arizona police to question a person about his or her immigration status if the police officer has a “reasonable suspicion” the individual is in the state illegally.

Before the police may question a person about his or her legal status, the police must have made a lawful stop, detention or arrest of the individual for violating a state, county, city or town law or ordinance.

In these cases, the police can make a reasonable attempt to determine the person’s status, which generally would include asking the individual to produce a valid green card, driver’s license or other proof of legal residency. If a person cannot produce the necessary documentation, then the police could take him or her into custody and detention until federal immigration officials have confirmed lawful or unlawful immigration status.

Some of the other important changes SB 1070 makes to Arizona state law include:

  • Allowing private citizens to file lawsuits against local governments and agencies who fail to enforce state or federal immigration laws
  • Making it a misdemeanor violation for legal residents who do not have their immigration papers with them at all times
  • Making it illegal for undocumented workers to knowingly apply for work or solicit work in a public place

Those in opposition to the law have argued that this broad power given to the police and the vagueness of what constitutes “reasonable suspicion” will lead to racial profiling and harassment against the Hispanic community, including those who are U.S. citizens and legal residents.

But those in support of the law counter that the measure is necessary in order to enforce immigration law and protect Arizona citizens from crime related to illegal immigration, including drug crime, kidnappings and human trafficking perpetuated by the Mexican drug cartels.

Legal Challenges Expected

SB 1070 is set to go into effect this August, but whether the immigration law will survive the legal challenges anticipated to be brought against it is another question.

While there are serious concerns about the law encouraging racial-profiling and discrimination against Hispanics, the most likely legal challenge will concern whether Arizona has the constitutional authority to pass an immigration law.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has the sole authority to control foreign affairs, which includes not only entering into treaties with foreign countries, but also passing and enforcing federal immigration law. Thus, many legal scholars have said that the Arizona law is facially unconstitutional because states do not have the authority to pass their own immigration laws.

Legal commentators also speculate that the federal government will not be the one to challenge the constitutionality of Arizona’s law. Instead, it is more likely that the federal government will wait until a private citizen files a lawsuit and then file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. This way, the Obama Administration can stay out of the center of the political maelstrom and keep its focus on developing its own federal immigration reform bill.


For more information on Arizona’s new immigration law or other questions about criminal consequences of this type of law, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today.