News / USA

Arizona Immigration Law Causes Constitutional Clash

The Obama administration's decision this week to try and block a controversial new law in Arizona targeting illegal immigrants sets the stage for an important legal and constitutional clash between the federal government and one of the 50 U.S. states.  

At issue is a new state law in Arizona that goes into effect later this month requiring police to check a person's immigration status if the officer has reason to believe the individual is in the country illegally.

The law was passed after years of frustration in Arizona in dealing with an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants and amid complaints that the federal government was not doing enough to protect the border with Mexico.

The Justice Department decision to try and block the Arizona law in court sets up a classic constitutional confrontation between the power of the central government in Washington and the rights of individual states to act on their own behalf.

Richard Friedman is an expert on constitutional law at the University of Michigan Law School.

"I mean I do think that this conflict is characteristically American that is of the United States and of our constitutional structure," said Richard Friedman. "We have state governments, which have general authority to regulate the affairs of the people within their states.  And then superimposed on top of them is the federal government, which is supreme but only with respect to matters that are entrusted to it."

Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government in the form of the Congress and the president are empowered to provide for the national defense, conduct foreign policy and raise money to fund government spending.  But the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says that any powers not delegated to the central government are reserved to the states, and that has led to some legal clashes throughout history.

Expert Richard Friedman says most constitutional scholars believe that the power to regulate immigration rests with the federal government, not the states.

"The federal government is supreme within its proper jurisdiction," he said. "In other words, if a particular subject is one on which Congress can regulate, then federal law is the supreme law of the land and any state law that interferes with that is invalid.  And immigration has long been understood to be a matter for federal law.  So the question really is whether the state law obstructs with or conflicts with or interferes with federal law."

Several civil rights groups are also challenging the Arizona law in federal court, arguing that the statute could lead to racial profiling by police on the lookout for suspected illegal immigrants.  Arizona officials counter that the law includes language that forbids racial profiling and argue that the law will not have a discriminatory impact.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer dismissed the Justice Department's lawsuit as a massive waste of taxpayer money and said her state was forced to act because the federal government has failed to protect the country's borders.

American University legal expert Steve Vladeck says supporters of the Arizona law welcome the legal and constitutional showdown about to play out in the federal courts.  

"From the moment that the Arizona legislature passed this law, part of the goal was to provoke this exact response-the federal government suing to stop the law," said Steve Vladeck. "I think the whole issue here is whether the states have the power to take these kinds of measures against undocumented immigrants, and so I think the entire plan was to force the federal government to take a position one way or the other."

Several other states are also considering laws targeting illegal immigrants and a recent Pew Research Center national poll found that more than 60 percent of Americans approve of the Arizona law.  Political experts believe immigration could be a potent issue in this year's midterm congressional elections.

Conservative legal analyst Colby May of the American Center for Law and Justice says many states are closely watching the legal battle over the Arizona immigration law.

"And until, in fact, the federal government shoulders its responsibility and does what the American people have been urging it to do for quite some time, which is control the border, you are still going to find lots and lots of folks coming in illegally into the United States and states are going to feel pressure in their social services and in education and in so many other ways that they are probably going to feel a need to react and do something," said Colby May.

The court battle over the Arizona law will likely play out over the next several months at least, and many legal experts predict that the issue will eventually find its way to the Supreme Court, which has the final word on interpreting the U.S. Constitution and settling legal conflicts between the states and the central government in Washington.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs