Defending Arizona
From the June 7, 2010, issue of NR.


If the documentation section of the Arizona law isn’t preempted, what about the rest of the law — for example, the section requiring police officers to contact the federal government when they develop reasonable suspicion that a person they are investigating for violating another law is an illegal alien? Here too, Arizona’s law is on solid legal ground. The Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals have all recognized the inherent authority of state and local officers to make immigration arrests.

In Gonzales v. Peoria, the Ninth Circuit specifically held that local police could make such arrests: “The general rule is that local police are not precluded from enforcing federal statutes. . . . Federal and local enforcement have identical purposes — the prevention of the misdemeanor or felony of illegal entry.” And in 2005 a unanimous Supreme Court in Muehler v. Mena recognized the authority of local police officers to inquire into the immigration status of individuals who have been lawfully detained.

Moreover, since the Gonzales v. Peoria decision, Congress has taken numerous steps to promote, not discourage, assistance by state and local police in making immigration arrests. As the Tenth Circuit observed in the 1999 case of United States v. Vasquez-Alvarez, federal law “evinces a clear invitation from Congress for state and local agencies to participate in the process of enforcing federal immigration laws.” In 1996, as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, Congress wisely put in place a federal statutory requirement that federal officials must respond whenever a state or local police officer requests verification of an alien’s immigration status (8 U.S.C. § 1373(c)).

Congress also began appropriating funds in 1994 for the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), which operates the 24/7 hotline for requests from local police. The purpose of the LESC is to assist law-enforcement agencies in determining whether persons they have contact with are illegal aliens. In fiscal year 2005, the LESC responded to a staggering 504,678 calls from state and local police. That’s an average of 1,383 calls per day. This high volume reflects the fact that police in all 50 states are already arresting illegal aliens, and in most cases transferring them to federal custody. S.B. 1070 does not create state and local arrest authority; it makes that existing authority more systematic and efficient.

The only argument the ACLU has left is the dubious claim that more vigorous enforcement of federal immigration laws in Arizona will conflict with federal purposes, perhaps by compelling LESC personnel to respond to a much larger number of calls from Arizona. But the U.S. District Court for Arizona already rejected that line of thinking in Arizona Contractors Association v. Napolitano (2007), evaluating Arizona’s 2007 law that required all employers to use the E-Verify system to verify the work authorization of employees. According to the court, “the fact that the Act will result in additional inquiries to the federal government is consistent with federal law.” (In that case, Janet Napolitano, as governor of Arizona, defended the law; now, as homeland-security secretary, she opposes S.B. 1070.)

In summary, we’ve heard all these arguments before. Many of the people and organizations that are now declaring S.B. 1070 to be unconstitutional made the same claims regarding previous Arizona statutes: Arizona’s last three major laws concerning illegal immigration were all challenged in court — Proposition 200 in 2004, the Human Smuggling Act in 2005, and the Legal Arizona Workers Act in 2007. (I assisted in the defense of the last two.) In every case, the Arizona law in question was sustained. Most recently, in 2008 Arizona won an impressive victory in the Ninth Circuit when the Legal Arizona Workers Act was upheld against a preemption challenge. I expect that when the dust settles after S.B. 1070 is litigated, Arizona will still be undefeated in defense of its immigration laws.

Kris W. Kobach was one of the principal drafters of Arizona S.B. 1070. He is professor of law at the University of Missouri (Kansas City) and senior counsel at the Immigration Reform Law Institute. From 2001 to 2003, he served at the U.S. Department of Justice as Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief adviser on immigration law and border security. He is currently a candidate for Kansas secretary of state. This article originally appeared in the June 7, 2010, issue of National Review.