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.


    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    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.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.