Yesterday, a diverse group of individuals and organizations filed a class action challenging Arizona’s harsh immigration enforcement law SB 1070, scheduled to go into effect on July 28, 2010. This law, among other things requires state and local law enforcement to check the immigration status of individuals it encounters, and makes it a state crime to be without proper immigration documentation. The lawsuit offers a compelling look at the egregiousness of the law, the variety of constitutional rights at stake, and the diverse group of individuals and organizations who will be adversely affected if the law goes into effect.

Like challenges to other state and local laws filed over the past few years, this suit claims that SB 1070 violates the Supremacy Clause, i.e., SB 1070 conflicts with and is preempted by federal immigration laws, including provisions that address 1) alien registration, 2) transportation and harboring, 3) work authorization and sanctions for unauthorized work, and 4) arrest authority for immigration violations. As plaintiffs explain, the Arizona law is an “impermissible encroachment into an area of exclusive federal authority [that] will interfere and conflict with the comprehensive federal immigration system enacted by Congress and implemented through…federal regulations and policies.”

However, the lawsuit also exposes a variety of other core civil rights and civil liberties that are in jeopardy. For example, plaintiffs claim that SB 1070 “targets Plaintiffs who are racial and national origin minorities, including Latinos, residing or traveling in Arizona and subjects them to stops, detentions, questioning, and arrests because of their race and/or national origin.” Thus, the law violates equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The plaintiffs also allege that SB 1070 violates other constitutional provisions, including the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expressive activity; the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures; and due process protections under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The lawsuit not only highlights the constitutional rights threatened by SB 1070, but also offers a small sampling of the broad cross-section of people and organizations that will be affected by the law. The suit was filed on behalf of fourteen organizations and ten individuals. The organizational plaintiffs include community service organizations, labor unions, a religious organization, and a business association. The individual plaintiffs include U.S. citizens and noncitizens, students and adults, persons fleeing persecution, a victim of domestic violence, a religious worker, and a Haitian citizen who was granted temporary protected status because of the recent earthquake.

One of the individual plaintiffs is a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico. Although she lives in New Mexico, she frequently drives through Arizona for work and to visit family. She fears that if SB 1070 goes into effect, she could be pulled over by a police officer in Arizona and detained because her New Mexico driver’s license will not be accepted to dispel suspicion that she is “unlawfully present.” The State of New Mexico does not require “proof of legal presence,” as that term is used by SB 1070, when issuing driver’s licenses.

Another individual plaintiff, a citizen of Jamaica who resides in Phoenix, was granted a form of relief from deportation (“withholding of removal”) because he showed that his “life or freedom would be in danger if he returned to Jamaica.” This form of relief allows him to remain in the United States; however, the only documentation of his legal status is a single piece of paper reflecting the order of an immigration judge. He fears that although his paperwork is completely legal, if he is stopped by local law enforcement officers the validity of those documents will almost certainly be questions and that he will be detained by officers for failure to carry proper registration documents.

A third plaintiff is an elderly U.S. citizen who has resided in Arizona his entire life. He is of Spanish and Chinese descent, is fluent in Spanish. In the past month, he has already been stopped twice by local police and asked to produce documents. He fears that he will be at even greater risk of being stopped and questioned under SB 1070 because of his he appearance and because, unless he carries his passport, he will be unable to prove he is a U.S. citizen.

These plaintiffs illustrate the myriad ways people living lawfully in the United States, would be harmed by SB 1070. Those facing the harsh effects of the law have called on the federal court to prevent it from going into effect. The court now must do its part to protect the rights of individuals living and passing through Arizona and send a clear message that no government is permitted to ignore civil rights and civil liberties in the name of immigration enforcement.

Photo by Arasmus Photo.