Construction firms in several states are closely watching how Arizona will implement the provisions of its immigration law left standing after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidated three of the statute's sections.
The high court on June 25 struck down three key sections of Arizona S.B. 1070 but left intact one of its most controversial provisions, which requires police to check the legal status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest whom they suspect is in the U. S. unlawfully.
“The issue of S.B. 1070 was primarily a law enforcement issue,” says Mark Minter, executive director of the Arizona Builders’ Alliance, Phoenix. "It doesn’t do anything to solve the fact that we need some type of viable program to allow people with some skills to legally come into this country and do that kind of work and then go home, or continue to stay here and at some point transition to citizenship.”
Enacted in 2010, the law has been blocked from taking effect by lower-court rulings. Although the measure has not been in force, it has had an impact on Arizona construction firms, says Richard Usher, director of government relations for the American Subcontractors Association's (ASA) Arizona chapter and founding director of Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform. He says some construction employers have had challenges in finding workers; other sources have said some Hispanic workers—including U.S. citizens who may have family members here illegally—have left Arizona because they fear their relatives will be detained or deported.
The Supreme Court ruling in the case, Arizona v. U.S., is a partial win for the Obama administration, which argued that federal immigration policy should preempt four provisions of the Arizona law.
But some of the statute's supporters viewed the high court's opinion as a victory for states' rights. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who signed the bill in 2010, said, "After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of S.B. 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution."
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said, "We'll have to wait to see how the ruling on the Arizona immigration law will affect our state's enforcement reforms because Georgia's law is not identical to Arizona's. That said, it appears the court has upheld the major thrust of our state's statute: that states have the right to assist in enforcing federal immigration law."
Arizona and states such as Georgia that have similar laws may yet face challenges. After the ruling, a senior U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security official told reporters, "We will not allow a state to set our enforcement priorities." He said the agency's priorities include those persons in the U.S. illegally who have committed crimes or recently crossed the border.
Some leading Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), used the release of the court's ruling as a call for action on long-stalled legislation to revamp immigration policy.
“This [ruling] increases the likelihood that employers will have one system of verification to follow, rather than a patchwork of different systems in different states,” Usher says. While many in Arizona hope the ruling will be a catalyst for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration legislation, no major immigration bill is likely to advance in the current congressional session.