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A timeline – the tumultuous legal life of Arizona’s SB1070

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Six years after its enactment, Arizona’s most famous anti-illegal immigration law, Senate Bill 1070, is now but a shell of its old self. The courts have defanged it, and a settlement reached recently between the state and its critics further defined and limited how the police may enforce it.

But the heart of SB1070 still beats, however faintly, after critics failed to strike down the requirement that law enforcers ask about people’s legal status during routine stops.

Critics insist they have mostly won the legal battle. Indeed, the settlement cites two other major rulings on immigration: the U.S. government’s lawsuit against SB1070, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down many of the law’s provisions but preserved section 2(B), and Melendres v. Arpaio, a separate case where a federal District Court ruled that law enforcers may not stop Latinos in their vehicles based on a belief alone that they are in the country illegally. The District Court also said individuals who are stopped for traffic violations may not be held longer than necessary to resolve the traffic violation.

“The goals have been met for the most part,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Pochoda said.

Here is a look at the convoluted path of the measure:

January 13, 2010 – Sen. Russell Pearce (who has since been unseated in a recall election) leads several Republicans in introducing SB1070. The intent is to “make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.”

April 23, 2010 – Amid a growing protest action, Gov. Jan Brewer signs the bill into law, arguing that Arizona is compelled to “solve a crisis we did not create and the federal government has refused to fix.”

May 17, 2010 – The ACLU, on behalf of several plaintiffs, including a Christian pastor from Mesa, challenges SB1070, arguing that the history of enforcement by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has demonstrated that SB1070 “cannot be enforced without improperly singling out racial and ethnic minorities,” including American citizens and legal residents. The suit, known as Valle del Sol v. Whiting (formerly, Friendly House v. Whiting), also alleges that SB1070 “usurps” the federal government’s exclusive authority over immigration laws.

July 6, 2010 – The Obama administration sues in District Court, arguing that SB1070 is preempted by federal immigration laws and is therefore unconstitutional. United States v. Arizona is more limited in scope compared to Valle del Sol.

July 28, 2010 – In United States v. Arizona, federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton blocks four of the state law’s provisions, a day before it was set to take effect:

  • Section 3, which makes the failure to comply with federal alien registration requirements a misdemeanor.
  • Section 5(C), which criminalizes the act of working or seeking work by an undocumented immigrant.
  • Section 6, which authorizes the warrantless arrest of an individual if an officer has “probable cause” to believe he or she has “committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.”
  • Section 2(B), which requires officers to inquire about an individual’s legal status during routine stops.

October 8, 2010 – Judge Bolton denies in part and upholds in part Arizona’s motion to dismiss Valle del Sol, saying the complaint “contains adequate allegations that race, alienage, or national origin discrimination was a motivating factor in the enactment of SB1070.”

April 11, 2011 – The 9th Circuit upholds Judge Bolton’s decision in United States v. Arizona. In his concurring opinion, Appellate Court Judge John Noonan wrote that the law has “become a symbol. For those sympathetic to immigrants to the United States, it is a challenge and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt. For those burdened by unlawful immigration, it suggests how a state could tackle that problem.” Noonan concluded that SB1070 has the “potential to lead to 50 different state immigration schemes piling on top of the federal scheme.”

August 10, 2011 – Arizona appeals to the Supreme Court, arguing that that the 9th Circuit’s decision in United States v. Arizona “turns well-established principles of federalism and facial challenges upside down,” and that on the contrary, federal immigration laws “expressly contemplate” cooperation between the states. Arizona insists that the U.S. Supreme Court already rejected the argument that states play no role whatsoever in enforcing federal immigration laws, citing the court’s decision in another landmark case upholding the state’s ability to pull the licenses of businesses that employ illegal aliens.

April 25, 2012 – U.S. Supreme Court justices hear arguments for or against SB1070 in United States v. Arizona. The justices seem sympathetic to the state law’s core provision, which requires police officers to inquire about people’s legal status if there is suspicion a person is in the country illegally.

June 25, 2012 — The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the heart of SB1070, but pulls out its teeth by striking down three other provisions, which would have made it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to have federal documentation, made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work, and would have allowed police officers to make warrantless arrests of people they suspected of committing crimes that would make them removable from the U.S.

July 12, 2012 – Plaintiffs in Valle del Sol seek an injunction against Section 2(B), and submit evidence to prove their claim that it would be implemented in an unconstitutional manner. The plaintiffs also insist that racial discrimination was a “motivating factor” in the law’s enactment. They also ask the federal District Court to stop the creation of a state harboring crime on the grounds they are pre-empted by federal laws.

September 12, 2012 – Judge Bolton denies the motion in Valle del Sol to enjoin Section 2(B), citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the controversial provision. She enjoins SB1070’s anti-harboring provision.

September 4, 2015 – Judge Bolton rules for Arizona in some counts, but also permanently stops SB1070’s day labor provisions, which make it unlawful for anyone to hire a person while his or her vehicle is impeding traffic. Bolton cites the 9th Circuit’s reasoning, which pans the law’s labor day provisions for drawing “content-based distinctions that appear motivated by a desire to eliminate the livelihoods of undocumented immigrants rather than to address Arizona’s interest in traffic safety.”

September 15, 2016 – The Arizona Attorney General and the plaintiffs in Valle del Sol arrive at a settlement that preserves and defines limits when enforcing SB1070’s sections 2(B) and 2(D). The settlement marks the end of all major SB1070-related litigation. Politically, it affirmed that Arizona’s experiment with state-level strict enforcement actions has been exhausted. Under the settlement, the AG will issue an informal opinion describing the state’s legal interpretation of SB1070’s Section 2(B), which requires the police to ask about people’s immigration status during routine stops. Since the law’s passage, that section has been limited by two major court opinions, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s conclusion that delaying the release of people detained solely for the purpose of determining their immigration status “would raise constitutional concerns.” The settlement also enjoins the vehicle impoundment provisions of SB1070, and yields $1.4 million in attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs’ counsel.

SB1070 timeline

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