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U.S. v Arizona: A National Identity Crisis? June 20, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Immigration, Law, Ethics & Society.
Tags: , , ,

Arizona’s new immigration law, SB1070, was in the news again this week when Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, while touring South America, responded to concerns about the law by indicating that the Justice Department is going to file suit against Arizona.   The Arizona law empowers police officers to require individuals to produce their immigration papers when those individuals are lawfully stopped by the police for other reasons.   The law has ignited a firestorm of controversy as it  implicitly requires anyone in Arizona who may “appear” to be there illegally to carry  proof of residency or citizenship at all times.

The proponents of the law believe that it will be another way to stem the tide of illegal immigration which disproportionately impacts their state.  The opponents are concerned about the application of law which they believe invites ethnic profiling and places an unequal  burden on a select group of legal residents and citizens.  (In Florida, there is much concern that attempts to bring the law here will create chaos in cities like Miami in which there is a huge, diverse legal population who would have to carry passports or be arrested.)

Secretary of State Clinton’s comments reflect another issue: the Constitution of the United States provides that Congress is responsible for enacting and enforcing immigration laws. (See Article I Section 8) Additionally, the Constitution provides that when there is conflict between state and Federal laws, Federal laws prevail.  (See Article VI) So, therein lies the foundation for the Federal government to object to Arizona’s law.

These are some of the basic legal issues underlying the emotional overlay of the Arizona law.  The Arizona law has served to focus attention on a complicated and controversial set of issues revolving around immigration in our country.  Depending upon which source is consulted, there is an estimated 12 – 20 million illegal immigrants in our country.  We have not devoted the resources to secure our borders or enforce our immigration laws to the fullest extent possible.  Many people enter our country legally and then over stay their visas with little repercussions.  So, there is ongoing debate as to what to do about the illegal people who reside here and how to prevent a growing problem.  The states most impacted are frustrated with the Federal government.  The Federal government has attempted and failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform in recent years, but remains the Constitutional overseer and needs to maintain uniformity in the application of the law throughout our country.

So, what is the solution?  National identity cards for all citizens?  Amnesty for those already here?  Militarization of our borders?  The questions are fairly easy to identify……What do you think are the answers?


1. Ruth - June 20, 2010

As you note, the questions are many and fairly easy to identify; the answers are complicated. Except in a situation wherein a crime has been committed, for citizens to be required to identify themselves as such appears to be ludicrous, expensive and embarrassing. In a situation, such as an automobile accident, when the driver is required to show proof of auto registration and driver’s license, such requirment is understandable. The Arizona law takes us far beyond that and into the realm where one is guilty until proven innocent.

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