Supreme Court Strikes Down Most State Immigration Laws, Confirms President’s Authority to Decline Deportations

June 25th, 2012 by William Stock

Today, the Supreme Court issued a 5-3 decision in Arizona v. United States, the Obama Administration’s challenge to Arizona’s controversial immigration-related enforcement provision.

The Court ruled, generally, that it is the Federal Government, and not the states, which regulate immigration matters, and that three of four provisions that were the subject of the suit were “preempted,” or were so inconsistent with the federal regulation of immigration that they could not stand.  The three provisions struck down were Arizona’s attempt to a) create its own requirement for foreign nationals to register with the immigration authorities and carry proof of such registration; b) criminalize the act of working without authorization in the United States, which federal law does not; and c) authorize state and local police to arrest people the police suspect of being removable from the United States.

The Supreme Court did not hear the challenge to the final provision, which allows Arizona police to question the immigration status of any person they have a “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the United States unlawfully.  The Court held it was too early to determine whether that provision, as enforced, unlawfully subjects some citizens and permanent residents to unconstitutional detention while their immigration status is verified.

The Court’s decision is a blow to those who would have states attempt to make their own laws and “attrition through enforcement” efforts except in the narrow area of business licensing recognized last year in the court’s Whiting decision.

It is also interesting to note that the Court incidentally validated the President’s authority to defer enforcement action for DREAMers:

“Congress has specified which aliens may be removed from the United States and the procedures for doing so. Aliens may be removed if they were inadmissible at the time of entry, have been convicted of certain crimes, or meet other criteria set by federal law. Removal is a civil, not criminal, matter. A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.
Arizona et al. v. United States, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) (slip op. at 4-5) (citations omitted, emphasis added).

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