June 25, 2012

Little Rock, AR - Today the U.S. Supreme Court struck down most provisions of S.B. 1070, Arizona's controversial anti-immigrant law. The Court refused to strike down "on its face" one of the most controversial parts of S.B. 1070, the so-called "show me your papers" provision, saying that the Court needed more information to make that decision.

"The good news," said executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas Rita Sklar, "is that we in Arkansas are fortunate that Arkansas Legislators already rejected Arizona's approach, by rejecting almost a dozen bills proposed in 2011, saving countless taxpayer dollars, unlawful detentions, and a drain on law enforcement's limited resources. The bad news is that the Court made a serious error by saying they would have to see the ‘show me your papers' section in use before striking it down." 

Sklar continued: "This section of the law means if, for whatever reason--your last name, skin color, accent or the car you drive-leads a law enforcement officer to perceive you as ‘foreign,' you're vulnerable to being stopped. These laws condone racial profiling and undermine effective law enforcement. By not striking down the ‘show me your papers' provision the Court is saying that the rights of Arizonans must be irreparably harmed before the Court does anything." 

"The U.S. Supreme Court has not said that the "show me your papers" provision of SB 1070 is constitutional; it merely said it depends on how the Arizona courts interpret the language in the law, and how state law enforcement actually implements it. In all likelihood, either further proceedings in this case, or soon-to-be restarted proceedings in other cases (including the civil rights suit brought by the ACLU and others) could lead to another injunction to stop enforcement of Section 2B."

ACLU of Arkansas staff attorney Holly Dickson said, "Three provisions of the law were struck down as violating the power of the federal government to control immigration law and policy, noting that America's interest and purpose was to have consistent, reasoned, decisions made by one government, not fifty plus governments."

"The Court recognized that America's values and its security depend upon a unified, national approach to immigration laws, while a patchwork of laws that vary from state to state and locality to locality undermine our values and security and violate our laws," Dickson added. "What is clear is that the federal government sets priorities with respect to immigrant enforcement, and the states cannot override or interfere with those priorities by passing its own laws and policies."

"The Court sent a clear signal that this is a dangerous law to copycat and clearly said that while the states may have understandable frustrations with problems caused by immigration; states cannot take on the roles and responsibilities of the federal government," said Dickson.

The three provisions struck down in Arizona v. United States include:

Section 3: Alien registration crime. Made any violation of the federal alien registration statutes (relating to registration and carrying registration documents) a crime under Arizona state law. The Supreme Court said this is the exclusive power of the federal government and states cannot do this, even when parallel with federal law.

Section 5C: Working while undocumented crime. Made it a crime under Arizona state law for an undocumented immigrant to work or solicit work without authorization. The Court said Arizona law conflicted with federal law and therefore was struck down as preempted.  

Section 6: Warrantless arrests. Permitted Arizona officers to make warrantless arrests if there was probable cause to believe that the person had committed a crime that made the person removable. This law attempted to give state officers more authority than even federal officers have and as such, it was struck down as violating the power of the federal government to control immigration law and policy, noting that America's interest and purpose was to have consistent, reasoned, decisions made by 1 government, not 50+ governments.

Section 2B: The "show me your papers" provision. This provision requires that during any stop, detention or arrest (typically traffic stops), if an officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the person is an undocumented immigrant, the officer must determine immigration status.

  • A decision on the constitutionality of this provision has been delayed for a future day, with the court reserving judgment on this section until there is more information on how the law would be implemented. The Court left open clear channels to allow for continued challenges to 2B, recognizing that implementing this provision may raise serious constitutional concerns. The court noted, "there is basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced."


  • The way the law would be implemented (including application in individual cases) will tell us if there are preemption or other constitutional problems with this provision. This provision may still be declared preempted by federal law as violative of the powers and duties of the federal government and it could be struck down as unconstitutional for other problems, including violation of the guarantee of equal protection under the law.


  • The Court noted that delayed release of persons detained to determine immigration status would raise constitutional concerns (and that it remains to be seen whether there will be delayed release of persons under this law).


  • The Court noted that there must be federal direction and supervision for immigration detentions. Without federal supervision, state officers holding immigrants in custody for possible unlawful presence may disrupt the federal system and therefore be unconstitutional.


  • The court did NOT decide whether states have authority to arrest on federal immigration crimes or stop on a federal crime would justify detention.

What happens now with Section 2B? 
The United States Supreme Court has vacated the injunction of the 9th Circuit on this point, and will remand the the 9th for further action. Further proceedings are required before this law would go into effect.

Arizona passed its law in 2010. In the past two years, a diminishing number of states have followed Arizona's example. The Alabama anti-immigrant law has been projected to result in a $6.5 billion hit to the state economy. "'Show me your papers laws' exact a heavy financial toll," said Sklar.

Alabama's economy may have suffered as hit of as much as $6.5 billion as a result of its law, according to a University of Alabama study. Arizona saw a drop in sales tax revenue and a jump in the unemployment rate when S.B. 1070 first became law in 2010. Farmers have seen their crops rot and are planting less because the workers they have relied on for decades have fled in fear.

Anti-immigrant laws also drain the resources of county sheriffs and local police departments who do not want the burden of serving as immigration agents while also trying to protect their communities. Immigration checks poison efforts to foster trust and cooperation within all communities.

For an infographic about today's decision and more information, go to:

Know Your Rights Videos

To watch a two-minute public service announcement about your rights in light of today's Supreme Court decision on Arizona's anti-immigrant law, SB 1070:
English video:
Spanish video: