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Does the Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Promote Racial Profiling?

Why did Arizona enact such a law?


U.S. Immigration laws are necessary to keep the borders secure and ensure safe passage for immigrants. 

Border states like the state of Arizona, Texas, or California have an important job to do. It’s not unreasonable for the state to enact laws that make it easier for law enforcement officials to do their jobs. The problem arises when new state laws seem less like a reasonable approach to safe immigration and more like an excuse to target people who appear to belong to certain groups. 

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 uses concerning language, and it’s caused some understandable controversy. Here’s what you need to know about the implications of the bill.


What Is Arizona Senate Bill 1070?

Arizona Senate Bill 1070, titled Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, was passed into state law in 2010 by then-governor Jan Brewer. The bill aimed to enforce anti-immigration provisions dubiously arguing that they would improve public safety. Many provisions of the bill were considered too broad, and opponents of the bill found them overreaching. 

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed Arizona SB 1070 and found that three of the four provisions interfered with existing federal immigration laws and immigration policy. The bill was gutted in the Supreme Court decision due to these contradictions. 

The remaining provisions within the bill allow Arizona police officers to arrest people they suspect of a crime and ask for proof of their immigration status if they have reason to believe they may be in the United States without documentation. This is commonly called a “show me your papers” law. 

The problem was how local law enforcement determined reasonable suspicion based on superficial observations regarding “race, color, or national origin.” Under this Arizona immigration law, law enforcement officers were empowered to use their own discretion when determining if they should verify someone’s immigration status. If someone appears to be foreign or sounds foreign, they were allowed to detain that person until authorities verified their immigration status. 


Why Is Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Controversial?

After the bill was gutted, the most significant provision that remained was the provision that allowed police to detain people until their immigration status could be formally verified. If the police suspected that someone may have committed a crime, they could detain anyone who looks or seems like they may be an undocumented immigrant. 

The so-called “suspects” could be held until immigration enforcement can confirm their identity and status. They had the ability to enforce this provision during routine traffic stops and use someone’s physical appearance as probable cause to suspect them of entering the country without documentation. Additionally, the act made it a misdemeanor for an immigrant to travel without documentation.

Immigration reform advocates and civil rights groups condemned this provision, claiming that it placed HispanicAmericans and Asian Americans in the same category as criminals simply for existing in the United States. 

Activist groups, including the ACLU and National Immigration Law Center, filed lawsuits in an effort to combat the provision, arguing that it violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Lawsuits were brought to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although proponents of the law countered that the law was pre-empted by federal law under Supreme Court precedents, the court largely disagreed. As such, Arizona agreed to “stop enforcing” the show me your papers provision. The Arizona Attorney General stated that police should just ignore the part of the law that empowers them to ask for proof of documented immigration.

The lawsuit’s conclusion was underwhelming for people who opposed the anti-immigrant law. It wasn’t stricken from the books. It was simply put on the back burner. 


Does Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Promote Racial Profiling?

The issue with the bill is the terminology lawmakers used. Many bills and laws are often controversial, but they pass scrutiny due to carefully chosen language designed to disguise the implications of the bill. A senate bill rarely uses language that could be considered permission for racial profiling.

This bill gave officers permission to target or profile any individual who “looks or sounds foreign”. It assumed that criminality is inherent to being an immigrant. There are plenty of people who live in the United States that will “look or sound” foreign. This language also assumed that Americans should only look or sound one particular way. 

The bill lacked specificity as to what the vague “look or sound” foreign verbiage meant, which raised many important questions among the bill’s critics. 

Could this extend to MexicanAmericans or African Americans who belong to families that have been U.S. citizens for several generations? What about ethnically LatinoAmericans, like all Puerto Rican citizens?

Critics of the bill raised excellent points. It specifically granted law enforcement officials all the permission they needed to target people who appear to be racial or ethnic minorities. This is the definition of racial profiling. 

Critics never received answers to the poignant questions they asked. The implications were too complex to navigate, and the most controversial part of the immigration legislation didn’t hold up to legal challenges in the Supreme Court.


Is Arizona Senate Bill 1070 Still in Effect?

The standard immigration and border protection provisions are still in effect, but police cannot enforce the “show me your papers” provision. However, this doesn’t mean that the world is free from racial profiling and that all immigrants will be treated fairly. 

Arizona has already set a precedent for condoning racial profiling. Once that precedent has been established, its chilling effects tend to spread. State legislatures have already proposed similar bills, including Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and North Carolina.


The Conclusion: Racial Profile Is a Real Problem in Immigration Law

Arizona is not the only state to openly practice racial profiling in its enforcement of immigration laws. Although they were eventually stopped from enforcing the controversial provision by the federal government, it was enforceable for four years. Similar profiling laws have been enforced throughout the country.

If you believe you may be encountering racial profiling during your immigration case, contact the experienced immigration law team at Cohen, Tucker & Ades. We’re passionate about immigration reform, and we’ve been helping immigrants live the American dream for over 40 years. 

We’ve helped many immigrants navigate tough situations and are always here to fight for you. 



SENATE BILL 1070 | Arizona Legislature (

ARIZONA v. UNITED STATES | Supreme Court | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

Racial Profiling | Equal Justice Initiative

Racial Profiling: Past, Present, and Future? | American Bar Association


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