U.S. Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Arizona Immigration Law

A.G. Schneiderman Leads 11 State Coalition In Brief Arguing AZ Law Is Unconstitutional

Schneiderman: AZ Immigration Measure Undermines Federal Law Enforcement Priorities And Threatens Civil Rights

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a challenge to the constitutionality of a controversial Arizona measure targeting undocumented immigrants. In a friend-of-the-court brief, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman argued the Arizona law is unconstitutional because it is inconsistent with federal law, threatens civil rights, and undermines federal law enforcement priorities. The brief filed in the case of Arizona v. United States, argues that states have broad authority to enact and enforce a wide variety of laws affecting immigrants, but only the federal government can establish and oversee an enforcement policy for the removal of undocumented immigrants from the United States.

The measure, known as SB 1070, requires Arizona law enforcement officials to engage in their own enforcement activities in aid of removal – including arrest and detention of individuals who appear to be undocumented immigrants – without any federal oversight, and without regard to federal enforcement priorities. The Arizona law also criminalizes any work (or attempts to find work) by undocumented immigrants, and any failure by such immigrants to comply with federal registration requirements. The United States sued to prevent enforcement of the Arizona law, on the ground that it conflicts with federal law and policy, and two lower federal courts agreed. Arizona is now attempting to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision.

“The Arizona law improperly displaces and supplants federal authority over the removal of undocumented immigrants, a subject that the Constitution leaves to Congress, and that Congress delegated to the discretion and exclusive oversight of federal executive officials. This measure obstructs and impedes federal efforts to establish national priorities for the removal of undocumented immigrants,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Overzealous and indiscriminate attempts to identify and remove undocumented immigrants also pose many risks for civil-rights violations—risks that spill over to legal residents. Enforcement measures targeted at ‘removable’ immigrants—such as documentation checks or other investigatory measures—therefore threaten to sweep in many legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who simply share the same race, ethnicity, or cultural markers as undocumented immigrants common to a particular area.”

New York and California, as home to some of the largest populations of both documented and undocumented immigrants in the country, took the lead among a group of 11 states opposing the Arizona law. The other states joining the brief are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The brief argues that Congress placed the federal executive branch in charge of implementing and overseeing a nationwide immigration policy with specific enforcement priorities. As part of that policy, the executive branch oversees state cooperative efforts to identify, apprehend, and detain undocumented immigrants for purposes of removal. But under federal law the states may not pursue their own enforcement priorities without federal oversight. The brief identifies several good reasons for that principle.

First, enforcement activities to remove people from the U.S. can have broad effects on entire communities, which may consist of documented and undocumented immigrants as well as U.S. citizens. These effects can disrupt families, communities, and other economic and social relationships. Second, enforcement measures targeted at undocumented immigrants threaten to sweep in many documented immigrants and citizens as well -- and overzealous enforcement efforts create the risk of civil rights violations that inflict grave harms on those who simply share the same race, ethnicity, or appearance as the undocumented immigrants being targeted.

Attorney General Schneidermanand the joining states argue that these concerns explain Congress’s decision to set enforcement priorities and to delegate to the federal executive branch discretionary judgments about the proper level of enforcement actions. It would be impossible to meet or implement those priorities and judgments if each state could simply choose to enforce its own priorities and its own level of enforcement activity, without any federal oversight.

The brief also argues that, if states could enforce their own priorities and policies in this area, their actions would have substantial effects on other states. Arizona's unilateral removal policy would place serious demands on federal authorities, who would have to respond to Arizona officers’ information requests and determine what to do with individuals detained by Arizona. This would divert federal resources from the priority areas set by Congress, including protecting the public from dangerous felons and terrorists, not only in Arizona but elsewhere. And Arizona's independent enforcement policies would inevitably impact the choices made by immigrants and legal residents about where to live and visit, resulting in a substantial social and economic impacts on other states.

A copy of the friend-of-the-court brief in Arizona v. United States is available online at: http://www.ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/11-182%20bsac.pdf

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