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Supreme Court Ruling on Arizona Immigration Law Highlights Continuing Need for Reform

July 10, 2012

In the last week of its term, the Supreme Court struck down a significant portion of Arizona’s effort to prosecute and deter illegal immigrants, but left one key part of that state’s laws intact.

The mixed high court ruling, along with the recent executive order by the Obama administration to stop the deportation of some younger, undocumented individuals, fully illustrated how that, regardless of which path is chosen, the few options for immigration reform remain controversial and divisive. At the same time, these developments also showed how critically necessary it is to resolve the immigration policy conundrum, especially for farmers and other employers concerned with maintain and recruiting a workforce.

The court upheld the law’s directive that state and local police may check the immigration status of people they stop when they suspect them of lacking legal authorization to be in the United States. The justices unanimously stated that federal law already requires immigration officials to respond to status checks from local authorities, and therefore federal immigration law does not preempt this section of the Arizona law.

However, much of SB1070 was overturned as interfering in the federal government’s role as the sole arbiter of immigration law. In a 5-3 ruling, the court said Arizona in effect had tried to set up a parallel enforcement system that punished illegal immigrants more harshly and interfered with congressional authority over the nation’s borders. The court rejected parts of the state law that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work, to fail to carry immigration papers, and that authorized warrantless arrests of people suspected by state and local police of committing deportable offenses.

This decision highlighted the need for continued efforts to reform federal immigration laws, and NMPF will continue to work with regulators and lawmakers to create workable solutions for dairy farmers and their workers.