Latin America Focuses on an Arizona Courtroom’s Decision on SB 1070

July 22, 2010

by Jason Marczak

The courtroom of U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton will be at the center of the U.S. immigration debate at 4:30 pm (eastern) today. That’s when Edwin Kneedler, the U.S. deputy solicitor general and the lead lawyer for the Justice Department, will square off against John Bouma, a private lawyer representing Governor Brewer and the state of Arizona.

Both legal teams are coming to the Sandra Day O'Connor Courthouse in Phoenix with their battle lines already drawn. But what is at stake is much, much more than just another legal case.

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Set to take effect next Thursday (July 29), the misnamed Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act will give law enforcement the power to question the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the state without authorization and mandate that immigrants carry their papers on them.

Bolton seems to be the right person for the job. Nominated by then President Bill Clinton and praised by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), she is highly regarded for her ability to handle complex legal questions.

Representing Arizona, Bouma will likely argue to the judge that SB 1070 does not conflict with federal law and that states have the right to enforce federal law. The Justice Department will argue that the law is pre-empted by federal statutes and that the government has “preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters.” Translation: the Arizona law cannot go into effect.

I have previously argued about the economic effects of this legislation, but today’s hearing and immigration discussions more broadly have implications well beyond U.S. borders. Of course, immigration policy is a U.S. issue but policies—especially misguided ones like SB 1070—can affect other strategic areas of collaboration with our partners in Latin America.

Mexico—the sending country for 30 percent of immigrants in the U.S. today (along with the majority of the undocumented)—is a prime example. The U.S. and Mexican governments have forged ever closer relationships to fight narcotrafficking, arms smuggling and overall violence in the last few years including stepped up intelligence sharing to fight traffickers.

But the Mexican government—the first Latin American country to file a motion (on July 1) against SB 1070—has warned that the Arizona law could lead to an uptick in drug trafficking and violence by making its law enforcement less willing to cooperate with their U.S. counterparts.

Other southern neighbors have followed Mexico’s lead: Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Paraguay have all filed friends of the court briefs in response to SB 1070. Luis Gallegos, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States from Ecuador, wrote that the Arizona law "raises substantial challenges'' to bilateral relations. Argentina’s argument was similar to that of Ecuador.

Clearly, Latin America will be closely watching to see if Judge Bolton grants a preliminary injunction that would stop SB 1070 from taking effect. And so will the 47 million Hispanics currently living in the United States. This law is not just about Arizona, it’s about the state-sanctioning of what is bound to result in racial profiling.

Overturning SB 1070 would send a clear signal to the other states and localities contemplating copycat legislation: Don’t try it.

*Jason Marczak is a contributing blogger to He is senior editor of Americas Quarterly, managing editor of and director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Tags: Immigration, Arizona

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