“S.B. 1070 is invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and must be struck down.” (from the US Department of Justice complaint, United States v. State of Arizona (et al), dated: July 6, 2010)
Like a hole in an Arizona border fence, the lack of comprehensive, US immigration reform has left what Latino advocates call a “void,” into which Arizona has inserted SB 1070. “Immigration policy and enforcement falls squarely upon the federal government, and the lawsuit will ensure to reassert federal authority,” Jerry Gonzalez, of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said in a statement issued after the DOJ announced the suit.
Any reform, Constitutionally, must come from the federal government, and not just in a way that pleases industry and appeases xenophobes. Indeed, watering down the law to cater to those groups is an abandonment of the charitable principles that, so proudly, we hail ourselves for every time we give our stuff to the Salvation Army and see a picture of the Statue of Liberty.
A government that is committed to the interests of its people operates dysfunctionally if it ignores the interests of the global community of which it is a member. Allowing states to make their own law irrespective of existing federal statute not only potentially disrupts the integrity of US international relations, it violates the Constitution.
The Supremacy Clause of Article VI in the United States Constitution says the “Constitution, and the Laws of the United States… shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and … every State shall be bound thereby.”
In the view of the Department of Justice, The Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, Arizona’s controversial new immigration law violates this clause because – among other things – it “interferes with the numerous interests the federal government must balance when enforcing and administering the immigration laws and disrupts the balance actually established by the federal government.”
The agencies involved feel that any step Arizona – or any state – takes to amend or rewrite federal immigration law, may jeopardize treaties and other federal laws with regard to the safety and security of the entire country. Specifically, the brief says, “Arizona’s immigration policy exceeds a state’s role with respect to aliens (Homeland Security), interferes with the federal government’s balanced administration of the immigration laws (Justice), and critically undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives (State).”
This follows what the Supreme Court decided in 1941, Hines [Secretary of Labor and Industry for Pennsylvania] v. Davidowitz, et al. “Our primary function,” the court said, “is to determine whether… [state] law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress. And in that determination, it is of importance that this legislation is in a field which affects international relations, the one aspect of our government that from the first has been most generally conceded imperatively to demand broad national authority.”
Even though “the status quo perpetuates a broken immigration system,” as GALEO’s Gonzalez said, there is still federal immigration law already in place. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano insisted that DHS will “continue to enforce the laws on the books.”
Arizona’s law, therefor, is an example of a state acting on its own to change a law which every other state must follow. “Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws,” Attorney General, Eric Holder, said in the DOJ press release, “will only create more problems than it solves.”
Gonzalez agreed, saying that in the case of the state his organization represents, the Justice Department action “should give pause to the Gubernatorial candidates talking about enacting or pushing for such a law in Georgia.”
Napolitano also said that, as Governor of Arizona she “vetoed several similar pieces of legislation” because, she believed they “undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.”
The lawsuit is important because it says that in our democratic society, though we speak with different voices, and often a disquiet consensus, we still believe in the supremacy of the rule of law – one nation. E pluribus unum.