The Beginning of the End?

WashingtonToday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Arizona v. United States, voting 5-3 to block most provisions of Arizona's controversial policing law but upholding the one of most concern to immigrant rights activists: the section that requires police to inquire about the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons who they suspect are in the country illegally. ImmigrationWorks USA president Tamar Jacoby made the following statement.

The judicial equivalent of white smoke has risen – the Supreme Court has ruled. Many were expecting a tough decision, opening the floodgates to states' rights, and the majority opinion is surprising – it leaves less room than many anticipated for state immigration enforcement. The justices upheld the provision of most concern to immigrant rights advocates, requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop for other reasons who they suspect are in the country illegally. But even that part of the opinion is tenuous, and it's far from certain what will happen next.

Fears that the ruling will open the door to a rash of Arizona copycat measures may be exaggerated – in part because of what's happening in the states.

The past six years saw a federalist revolution in immigration lawmaking, with the states taking more power into their own hands every year. But the mood in most statehouses was strikingly different this spring, with lawmakers much less focused on immigration and in much less of a hurry to crack down. No state in the nation enacted a tough new immigration law. Most surprising, no state took advantage of the opening created by last year's Supreme Court immigration decision – the ruling that states may act to prevent and punish the hiring of unauthorized immigrants, requiring employers to enroll in the federal E-Verify worker identification program. Most observers expected that ruling too to encourage a host of imitators. In fact, nothing happened – not a single state enacted law mandating E-Verify for any new employers.

The fight over who should make immigration law, Washington or the states, is far from over. But today's ruling – consistent with the mood in many states – is a stunning reversal of recent trends.

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