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Phoenix, Arizona – As Arizona prepares to begin enforcing what has been called its most radical immigration-related law, the legal battle to prevent its implementation on July 29 is also in full motion.
Today, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block Arizona’s law. The lawsuit is charging that SB 1070 is unconstitutional. The federal government is asking for a preliminary injunction to stop the legislation from taking effect in 23 days.
Enacted to purportedly curtail the presence of foreigners who lack legal status, Senate Bill 1070, or simply SB 1070, signed into law by Governor Janice Brewer on April 23, intends to make it a crime being in Arizona “unlawfully.”
This means any person without legal documents, upon being detected by a state law enforcement agency, could be placed on detention without having committed any other crime except what, as of July 29, will be a new “crime,” being in Arizona without a visa, work permit or legal residency documents.
The law will enable Arizona’s law enforcement agencies to question anyone if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is not legally in the country. This, civil rights groups argue, will lead to racial profiling, and will violate the civil rights of U.S. Citizens and legal residents.
This is just one of several provisions SB 1070 outlines. Among others, the law “prohibits cities, towns, and counties from having any policy in place limiting the investigation of violations of federal enforcement laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.” The contentious law also requires police officers “to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person whenever there is reasonable suspicion that the person is unlawfully present and verify that status with the federal government, except to the extent that it would hinder an ongoing investigation.”
Several lawsuits against the State of Arizona are questioning the constitutionality of a law which controversial nature has sparked protests, marches, and boycotts –both against and in favor– and has attracted the attention of the international media. A few weeks before the law goes into effect, the lawsuits may delay the date to begin enforcing it or completely prevent the application of SB 1070. A court ruling will actually decide.
One of these complaints to attempt blocking the law was filed on June 5 by a national coalition of civil rights organizations. Among them are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC). Individual plaintiffs are also part of the lawsuit.
This coalition is calling SB 1070 an “unconstitutional law.” According to a press release prepared by the ACLU of Arizona, the law will encourage the practice of racial profiling, endanger public safety and betray American values.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit is based on the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution that establishes federal law trumps state statutes. The Justice Department argues that enforcing immigration laws is a federal responsibility.
Even months before the bill was signed into law and then afterward, SB 1070 clearly became more than just a law mainly targeting individuals who have no authorization to live and work in the country. Before its implementation and enforcement, this new legislation has already reached broader dimensions –social, cultural and demographic, among others.
The legal complexity of SB 1070, the challenges to enforce it, the likelihood of lawsuits being filed when lawful residents or Latinos citizens come to be detained in error, and the financial burden that prosecution and incarceration costs will bring upon the state, are just some aspects that make this Arizona’s law too risky to implement.
Besides these potential risks, SB 1070 has already intensified the immigration reform debate not only in Arizona but elsewhere, risen the degree of polarization, and sparked racial tensions. Moreover, the law has promoted racism, verbal violence and hatred, as well as widened a cultural, ethnic and historical gap.
With the federal lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice on Tuesday, the political and legal battle will deepen. But there is little doubt that the thorny issue of unauthorized immigration needs an urgent action at the federal level and a broader approach well beyond local state measures like Arizona’s and its SB 1070.
Photo by Eduardo Barraza