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Experts Weigh in on ‘Arizona v. United States’ Case

What It Means for the Future of Immigration in America

SOURCE: AP/John Amis

State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta) speaks out against an immigration bill in the House chamber in front of House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), Thursday, March 3, 2011, in Atlanta, Georgia.

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At three recent Center for American Progress events,* a range of experts—from legal scholars to advocates to elected officials—discussed the monumental importance of the Supreme Court’s upcoming review of the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigration law, S.B. 1070. Their quotes below illustrate the devastating effects that S.B. 1070 and laws similar to it have had on the United States, as well as their potential to inflict further damage if the Supreme Court upholds the law.

Experts speak out against S.B. 1070

Judge U.W. Clemon, retired federal judge, northern district of Alabama:

This is an attempt by states like Arizona and Alabama to assert themselves as co-equal to the United States. "These are our states’ rights, and if the federal government won’t do it, since we are co-equals, we will." And it takes me back to 1857 and the Dred Scott case, when the Supreme Court not only said that blacks could never be citizens but it said that Congress was powerless to prevent the expansion of slavery into the new territories.

State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), House minority leader, Georgia General Assembly:

We cannot as a nation allow each state to decide who gets to live there. That fundamentally violates who we are as a nation, it fundamentally violates what we did in the Civil War—which is fight to say that as a nation there are questions where we have to stand together, and there are questions that have to be larger than the specific and parochial prejudices of each state.

Grant Woods, attorney general of Arizona from 1991 to 1999:

My experience is that people who are here illegally are often most susceptible to victimization by domestic violence, by other sorts of violent crime, consumer fraud, scams of all sorts run on these people, and they need to feel free to come forward if they are victimized and assert their basic human rights. They are also witnesses to crimes, and obviously we need them to come forward and help us solve crimes. Unfortunately when we have our local police officers put in the position of performing the duties of federal immigration officers, there is little or no chance that people will come forward, regardless of their own victimization or how they could help us solve crimes. What has happened in Arizona is that it’s made a difficult situation impossible, in my view.

Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr., senior pastor, First Institutional Baptist Church of Phoenix, Arizona:

Countless American citizens have been racially profiled by police agencies and have suffered disrespect and humiliation simply because of the color of their skin. An "us versus them" divide has become the norm in many relationships between Arizona residents of Hispanic descent and Arizona residents of non-Hispanic descent. As we approach the second anniversary of the signing of S.B. 1070, we are painfully reminded that this ill-advised, unjust anti-immigration law has ripped respect from hundreds of thousands of respectful families and individuals who are just trying to survive and live better lives in our great country.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund:

These laws don’t just target immigrants. American citizens, particularly people of color, have had their lives disrupted and detained and subject to needless immigration trials by local law enforcement officials who are poorly trained or equipped to interpret the complex federal web of immigration policy.

Our greatness comes as a nation from aspiring to be one, to be indivisible with liberty and justice for all. The Arizona "show me your papers" law dishonors these principles. We hope the Court will agree and will not allow our constitutional rights to be undermined by states that take federal law into their own hands.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO, National Council of La Raza:

Arizona’s S.B. 1070 anti-immigrant law encourages discrimination against all people because of how they look and speak, regardless of whether they have been American citizens their entire life.

Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

Although the case before the Court revolves around legal issues of preemption and federalism, Arizona’s law arose in a context that was both politicized and racialized. The justices cannot fail to appreciate that this is a quintessential 21st century civil rights case. In deciding the case, the Court should respect the importance of uniform national civil rights standards.

Lucas Guttentag, Robina Foundation distinguished senior research scholar in law and lecturer in law, Yale Law School; lecturer, Stanford Law School:

It’s demonstrably false that what Arizona is doing is simply enforcing federal law. That’s not the case. It goes beyond federal law and it conflicts with federal law. Federal law does not make it a crime to work without authorization. Arizona does. Federal law does not make it a crime to be undocumented. Arizona does. Federal law does not penalize individuals for failing to carry registration documents if they are unable to get them. Arizona does. Federal agents cannot make warrantless arrests of persons based on so-called deportable offenses. Arizona authorizes its state police officers to do that. And none of those are consistent with federal law, they’re directly contrary to federal law.

Cecilia Wang, director, American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project:

Ultimately, as Americans, as communities around this country, we have a decision to make. Do we want to have a system where every state and locality … [can] empower its police officers to stop any one of us and to demand proof that we have a right to be here? That sort of law is incompatible with our fundamental American values and our expectations and basic rights.

Karen Tumlin, managing attorney, National Immigration Law Center:

The issues before the Supreme Court in Arizona v. U.S. strike at our most deeply held values. In its decision the Court will either stand on the side of justice and equality or it will open the doors for legally sanctioned racial discrimination.

Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy, Center for American Progress:

If the Supreme Court blesses these laws, it will not simply be resolving a doctrinal debate about the limits of state authority over immigration policy. It will effectively give states the green light to treat people differently based on their appearance rather than on their actions. And it will do so at a time when the color and face of our nation are changing dramatically, and ethnic diversity is becoming the norm across the country.

Angela Maria Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, Center for American Progress:

The Arizona law takes us backwards and belies the fact that America is increasingly a diverse country. In the last 10 years, 85 percent of the growth of the U.S. population is of people of color. You can’t tell by looking at somebody if they have the right immigration papers any more than you can tell if they paid their taxes. Our laws should uphold a fundamental moral principle that in this country you are judged by your character, not the color of your skin.

*Quotes from Abrams, Clemon, Guttentag, and Fitz can be found here. Quotes from Saenz and Tumlin came from a CAP press breakfast on April 12. Quotes from Woods, Stewart, Henderson, Murguía, Wang, and Kelley can be found here.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi (immigration, race and ethnicity)
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org