Immigration reform is back in the news, thanks to a law recently passed in Arizona, which gives enforcement officials the power to make "reasonable searches'' of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Arizona's illegal immigrant population stands at 460,000, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security. Of the 38 million foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately one-third are estimated to be unauthorized.
The Congressional Research Service reports that the number of foreign-born people living in the United States stands at 12.6 percent of the population, a figure not seen since the early 20th century.
Lawmakers, legal scholars, and immigration rights activists have all weighed-in on this controversial bill, mostly disapproving of it for violating protections against unreasonable searches and encouraging racial profiling.
The likelihood of this law (which isn't scheduled to take effect until late July or early August) ever seeing the light of day seems remote, at least according to constitutional scholars. In addition to the potential of racial profiling, Arizona is attempting to regulate immigration policy despite the fact that the Constitution gives that power to the federal government under foreign affairs.
"Many of the statute's provisions are, in my view, likely to be found unlawful,'' Muneer I. Ahmad, professor of Law at Yale Law School wrote in an email, "because they have been preempted by federal law governing immigration. It is generally understood that federal immigration law 'occupies the field,' such that states many not regulate in this area. This has been the basis on which a number of state statutes seeking to regulate immigration have been invalidated.''
Kermit Roosevelt, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School doesn't think the law will be overturned solely on the grounds that it violates protections against unreasonable searches like many have claimed, because "the [Arizona] law requires police officers to have 'reasonable suspicion' of illegal conduct before authorizing a stop.'' Where the law runs into troubled waters, according to Roosevelt, is the enforcement of the law, which might be interpreted as discriminating on racial grounds in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Supporters of the bill dismiss the suggestion it will lead to racial profiling since the law prohibits the use of race or nationality as a sole basis for an immigration check. The Arizona governor's office has additionally developed a training course to help officers learn whether or not to check a person's immigration status.
However well intentioned the Arizona law is in preventing immigrants from pouring through the borders illegally, the law as it is written, is open to different interpretation on what constitutes a "reasonable search," which carries with it the potential of civil rights court challenges on grounds that it violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects against "unreasonable searches.''
The discriminatory implications of SB 1070 has also reportedly led to several convention groups threatening to take their business to other states if this law goes into effect. Other institutions, such as the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, are considering a resolution calling for an end to any business the city has with Arizona or any Arizona-based businesses.
The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders will file a suit Thursday in Phoenix federal court to block the enforcement of SB 1070, on the grounds the law violates due-process by detaining suspects before they're convicted.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are also reportedly in the process of filing lawsuits.
In addition to court challenges, SB 1070 could also be struck down at the ballot box. A group called One Arizona' has filed the necessary paper work with the Arizona Attorney General's Office on Wednesday to launch a petition drive to place a referendum on the November ballot, which would put the law on hold until the November election. The group would have to collect 76,682 signatures and turn them 90 days after the legislative session ends before it can be placed on the November ballot.
President Obama has already promised to have the U.S. Justice Department look into Arizona's new law to determine if the bill is legal.