BY JACQUES BILLEAUD, ASSOCIATED PRESS
PHOENIX — Police agencies that would enforce the most controversial part of Arizona's 2010 immigration law are expected to get squeezed by legal challenges from opposite sides if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the law in the coming days.
Opponents of the Arizona law, known as SB1070, are likely to sue police departments on claims that officers racially profile people as they enforce the provision of the law that requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons.
But legal challenges also are expected from the other side: from supporters who could claim that a police agency has broken the law if it restricts the enforcement of SB1070.
"There are people just waiting to challenge this law on both sides of the spectrum," said Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor.
A little-known section of the law lets anyone sue an agency that has a policy that restricts the enforcement of immigration law. The provision was aimed at holding cities accountable for "sanctuary policies" that discourage or prohibit officers from inquiring about a person's immigration status. Agencies that are found by a court to have sanctuary policies face fines of $500 to $5,000 for each day such a violation remains in effect after the filing of the lawsuit.
The right to sue was among the parts of the law that were allowed to take effect in July 2010. But a federal judge has barred police from enforcing the law's more contentious sections, such as a requirement that officers check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule before the end of the month on Gov. Jan Brewer's appeal of the 2010 ruling. Legal experts expect that the court likely will uphold the requirement for immigration-status checks, siding with Arizona officials' legal argument that SB1070 is not trumped by federal immigration law.
Such a ruling will prompt groups that already have challenged the law to ask the courts to again prevent enforcement of the controversial sections based on other arguments, such as racial profiling.
While seven challenges to the law have been filed, no lawsuits have been brought to court so far that alleged that a police agency had a sanctuary policy.
The question about what types of immigration inquiries police can make came to a head in Arizona during 2007 when Phoenix police Officer Nick Erfle was killed by an undocumented immigrant, who shot the officer as he tried to arrest the immigrant on a warrant.
After his release from prison and subsequent deportation, the immigrant sneaked into the country again and was arrested for misdemeanor assault in Scottsdale, but wasn't reported to federal immigration authorities. The immigrant was fatally shot a short time later by police as he pointed a gun at a carjacking victim's head.
Phoenix revamped its policy on officers inquiring about people's immigration status after a union representing 2,500 rank-and-file officers had complained that officers were tired of seeing crimes tied to undocumented immigration.
Under the law's right-to-sue provision, officers are indemnified from having to pay attorney fees and other legal costs in such lawsuits unless they are found to have acted in bad faith.
Paradise Valley Police Chief John Bennett, who is president for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, declined to comment on the possibility of additional lawsuits on allegations that police racially profiled people or agencies were restricting the enforcement of immigration laws.
Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, a key advocate for the 2010 law, said he wasn't expecting any lawsuits against alleging sanctuary policies because he believes officers will enforce SB1070.
"These are more red herrings brought by the opponents of SB1070 who don't want people to accept that it's reasonable," Kavanagh said.
Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat who believed the law was misguided, said the right-to-sue provision was an unusual attempt to micromanage police departments.
"Unless you fully investigate the misdemeanor charge of being in the country without citizenship papers, you could be sued," Goddard said. "Whereas if you don't follow up on an armed robbery, you can't be sued. It's meddling with the police chief's ability to decide what's best for the safety of a community."
Former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the chief sponsor of the state's 2010 immigration enforcement law, said the law's right-to-sue provision was needed to ensure that cities don't come up with restrictions on enforcing immigration law.
"It's all about compliance," Pearce said. "If you don't comply, there will be lawsuits. If you do comply, there's no problem."
Below, a look at other controversial immigration laws
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. Status: The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. Status: The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. Status: Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. Status: Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, according to the LA Times. Status: Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. Status: effective since October 1st, 2010
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. Status: Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) Flickr photo by longislandwins