The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide whether Arizona may impose tough anti-immigration measures. Among them, in a law enacted last year, is a requirement that the police there question people they stop about their immigration status.
The Obama administration challenged parts of the law in court, saying that it could not be reconciled with federal immigration laws and policies under the Supremacy Clause. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, blocked enforcement of parts of the law in April.
The administration challenged four provisions. The most prominent was a requirement that state law enforcement officials determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if officials have reason to believe that the individual might be an illegal immigrant. The provision also requires that the immigration status of people who are arrested be determined before they are released.
The third challenged provision makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to work or try find work. Federal law subjects businesses that hire illegal workers to criminal punishment but imposes only civil penalties on the workers themselves.
The Arizona law also allows the police to arrest people without warrants if they have probable cause to believe that suspects have done things that would make them deportable under federal law.
The Ninth Circuit blocked all four provisions, basing its rationale on the fact that the Constitution gives Congress the power “to establish an uniform rule of naturalization.”
Mr. Verrilli told the justices that the Arizona law upsets a delicate balance that includes “law enforcement priorities, foreign-relations considerations and humanitarian concerns.”
In urging the court to hear the case, Arizona v. United States, No. 11-182, Paul D. Clement, representing Arizona, said the state law did not conflict with but, rather, complemented federal policies. The Ninth Circuit’s decision, Mr. Clement told the justices, had “completely foreclosed Arizona’s effort to address the disproportionate impact of unlawful immigration in a state with a 370-mile border with Mexico.” If this argument is persuasive to the Justices on the bench, it would force the Federal government to take a more proactive stance on immigration in making the reforms it envisions before other States follow with their own bills being upheld. A decision in Arizona’s favor would take immigration out of the sole auspices of the Federal government. Such a consequence would have far reaching effects for aliens when deciding where to live and how to pursue their livelihood.
With the ongoing struggle between States and the Federal government in figuring out how to handle these immigration issues, the Supreme Court will now have a chance to decide whether immigration law remains the province of Federal government or whether State efforts to handle its own issues is constitutional.