How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Might the need for Arizona to work with federal agents impede SB 1070?

Mercer 8459

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Leon Gutierrez, of the Tucson Police Department's Gang Tactical Unit, questions a suspect about his possible gang affiliation following an altercation outside a currency exchange on June 3, 2010 in Tucson, Arizona.

Now that a last-minute motion by opponents of SB 1070 to block its most controversial provision has been rejected in federal appeals court, it would appear that's the last - at least for now - legal roadblock to police checking for immigration status in Arizona. But a future impediment to the state's 2010 anti-illegal immigration crackdown working as envisioned by its architects could rest with federal agents.

A piece in Flagstaff's Arizona Daily Sun does a good job of explaining why: Homeland Security revoked agreements earlier this year with several Arizona law enforcement agencies that allowed specially trained officers to determine individuals' immigration status and detain them for deportation. From the story:

That means only a federal officer can make that determination. But the Obama administration has set out a policy of spending its time pursuing only those illegal immigrants whom they consider to be high priority, including criminals and those who have repeatedly entered the country illegally. 

And more recently the administration carved out an entire class of people brought here illegally as children -- perhaps as many as 1.4 million of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States -- who could apply for "deferred action" status to be allowed to remain in this country.

But if state and local police spend extra time questioning people about their status -- or waiting for a response from Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- that could prove fertile ground for future challenges to SB1070 and its "Show me your papers" provision.


More of what to expect as SB 1070's 'papers please' provision takes effect

A protester holds a placard during a pro


A protester holds a placard during a protest against Arizona Senate Bill 1070 on April 25, 2012 outside of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC.

Two days ago in Phoenix, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that local police could begin enforcing the most controversial provision of SB 1070, the state's much-imitated 2010 anti-illegal immigration law.

Known as Section 2(B), it allows local police to check the immigration status of people they come across who they suspect of being in the country illegally. It was the only one of four contested provisions upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, although the high court did so with the caveat that while Section 2(B) didn't appear to conflict with federal law as written, it was open to further legal challenges once in practice.

Since then, immigrant advocates in Arizona have been advising immigrants who are pulled over to provide only minimal information to police, while protesters have taken to the streets. Civil rights organizations, meanwhile, are preparing for complaints of racial profiling and potential lawsuits.


The latest challenge to SB 1070's controversial Section 2(B)

Photo by SEIU International/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A protester holds a union anti-SB 1070 sign, May 1, 2010

Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three of four controversial provisions of Arizona's SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law that had been temporarily blocked by a lower court. But they upheld the most contentious one, Section 2(B), which empowers local cops to check the immigration status of people they stop or detain if they decide there is "reasonable suspicion" the person is in the country illegally.

So given the court's decision, why, then, is there a renewed legal challenge to Section 2(B) before it takes effect? Like most of the legal wrangling that has surrounded SB 1070, it's complicated.

When they issued their ruling on SB 1070 in late June, the justices made clear that Section 2(B) was not entirely out of the woods. While it did not on its face appear to conflict with federal law - the basis of the federal legal challenge that eventually led SB 1070 to the high court - there was no guarantee that it would not present a conflict once implemented, the justices ruled.