Foreward: Policing Immigration After Arizona

Jennifer M. Chacón, U.C. Irvine School of Law


The Supreme Court’s June 25, 2012, decision in the case of Arizona v. United States has already generated a wave of scholarly commentary. The emerging consensus is that the ruling was a significant victory for proponents of federal primacy in immigration law. The Court rejected the voguish notion that states have inherent authority to enforce immigration laws and laid to rest the argument that states could enter the immigration policymaking sphere by purporting to mirror federal immigration law. In striking down three of the four challenged provisions of Arizona’s controversial Senate Bill (“S.B.”) 1070, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the federal government’s “significant power to regulate immigration.” The ruling, however, does not signal an end to state-level participation in immigration enforcement. State and local officials will continue to cooperate in immigration enforcement—whether by choice or compulsion—as a result of the federal government’s Secure Communities program, under which state and local arrest data is automatically checked against a federal immigration database. Moreover, because law enforcement arrests are an important screening mechanism for determining who will be targeted for immigration enforcement, state and local officials will still have much of the “discretion that matters” when it comes to shaping immigration enforcement. The Court’s opinion in Arizona did not fully acknowledge or account for the changing nature of immigration enforcement. Consequently, the formal reiteration of federal power will not necessarily ensure federal primacy in all aspects of immigration enforcement.

This foreword addresses two themes from articles in the Symposium issue: the effects of the Court's 2012 Arizona decision on immigration enforcement policies generally, and a specific issue that the Court deliberately declined to address: racial profiling.