A Safer Neighborhood for Whom?

A Safer Neighborhood for Whom? 

By Priscilla E. Jimenez

If Arizona is successful in the defense of its recently passed immigration law, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” better known as SB1070, then anyone who appears upon “reasonable suspicion” to be an illegal alien, may be detained by the police in the state of Arizona. Furthermore, if they have probable cause, the police may arrest an individual without a warrant whom they believe has done things that would make him or her deportable under federal law. As a young Hispanic attorney, who occasionally forgets her wallet in another purse, and as a result walks around without proper identification, a law like this gravely concerns me.

On April 23, 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law what has been called the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration. In July of 2010, a preliminary injunction was granted in response to the Department of Justice’s challenges of four provisions of the law. On April 11, 2011, the 9th Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of those four provisions from being put into practice in the state of Arizona.

On December 12, 2011, after granting the state’s petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments this term on the Obama Administration’s challenges to Arizona’s immigration law. Although a specific date for oral arguments has yet to be set, it will likely be in April of 2012. The four provisions of the law which are being challenged are:

  • A requirement that police in making any stop or arrest try to determine the individual’s legal right to be in the U.S., if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” of illegality. If arrested, the individual cannot be released until his legal status is verified by the federal government. (Section 2(B).
  • A provision making it a crime under state law for an individual to intentionally fail to obtain and carry legal immigrant papers with him while in Arizona (Section 3).
  • A provision making it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job, publicly solicit a job or work in Arizona (Section 5).
  • And, a provision that allows police to arrest without a warrant any person for whom the officer has “probable cause to believe” that the individual has committed any crime, anywhere, that would make that individual subject to being deported (Section 2).[1]

This law, and similar laws which have been enacted in South Carolina, Alabama and Utah, is shaping up to be one of the key issues in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama has criticized these laws since their inception and continues to support the Department of Justice in its efforts to challenge the provisions of the Arizona law which are “unable to be reconciled with federal law.”

Putting forth a tough stance on immigration control has become a key issue during the GOP primary. One way candidates are demonstrating this is through their support for state laws regulating immigration which shows how they would crack down on unauthorized immigration if elected president. One example of such a supporter is Republican Gov. Mitt Romney who, as of January 11, 2012, has been endorsed by Kris Kobah, Kansas’ Secretary of State and the chief architect of the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws. On his website, Romney announces that he is “so proud to earn Kris’s support,” and continues on to say that “Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country…I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem.” Romney has also said that if elected president, he would veto the DREAM Act, legislation that would allow for undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as minors to get unconditional legal status upon meeting certain criteria.

Arizona v. United States is shaping up to be a landmark decision and its impact on the Hispanic community will be monumental. If provisions, such as the ones being challenged in the Arizona immigration law, are permitted to be enforced by states, the subsequent impact on anyone who looks like “an alien” is immense. The police, upon “reasonable suspicion” — already arguably a low standard — would be able to detain a person for failure to carry legal documentation demonstrating his or her legal right to be in this country. The successful implementation of a law like this could greatly affect you, your family, your clients and anyone who “appears” to be an alien. The year 2012 promises to be epic one regarding immigration control. Staying abreast of current events, the status of this case and the stance of candidates on immigration issues is imperative.


Priscilla E. Jimenez is an Associate at the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia and works on personal injury, pharmaceutical litigation, products liability, and medical negligence and malpractice cases. In addition to being a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Jimenez also serves as a director on both the Board of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania (HBA of PA) and the HBA of PA’s Legal Education Fund Board. She can be reached at 215-893-3420 or pjimenez@lockslaw.com.

[1] Lyle Denniston, Another landmark ruling in the offing, SCOTUSBLOG (Dec. 12, 2011, 11:09 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2011/12/another-landmark-ruling-in-the-offing/