Latino Studies The Long Arm of Arizona's SB 1070: Antecedents and Far-Reaching Spillover Effects
Cecilia Menjívar, Nicholas Tinoco
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0279


The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, or Arizona Senate Bill 1070, was signed into law on 23 April 2010 by Governor Janice K. Brewer. Barely one week later, Governor Brewer signed into law House Bill 2162 to correct provisions in SB 1070 that were manifestly racist. This pair of laws, better known simply as SB 1070, was set to go into effect on 29 July 2010. A barrage of legal challenges followed, culminating in a US Supreme Court ruling on 25 June 2012, declaring most provisions in SB 1070 preempted by federal law. Although SB 1070 had precedence in a series of laws passed in Arizona in the previous years, the magnitude and scope of SB 1070 generated significant media and public attention; fear among immigrants, especially Latinos; legal challenges; and criticism and protests from immigrant rights organizations. Touted as a crime-fighting legal mechanism, SB 1070 was not intended to combat serious crimes; instead, it was meant to discourage undocumented migration to the state. Indeed, Section 1 of the bill states its legislative intent this way: “The legislature finds that there is a compelling interest in the cooperative enforcement of federal immigration laws throughout all of Arizona. The legislature declares that the intent of this act is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona. The provisions of this act are intended to work together to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States” (State of Arizona 2010, cited under Understanding SB 1070). Among its several provisions, SB 1070 (as amended by HB 2162) included (a) prohibiting state and local law enforcement from restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws; (b) requiring law enforcement, when making a lawful stop, detention, or arrest, to make a reasonable attempt to determine a person’s immigration status when reasonable suspicion existed that the person was unlawfully present in the country; (c) making the failure to complete or carry an immigration registration document a misdemeanor offense; (d) authorizing an officer involved in human smuggling enforcement to lawfully stop anyone in a motor vehicle on reasonable suspicion that the person is violating a civil traffic law, and making it a misdemeanor offense to unlawfully transport or conceal an “illegal” immigrant or encourage one to enter or remain in the country illegally (Orlando 2010, cited under Understanding SB 1070). In its June 2012 decision, the US Supreme Court left intact Section 2B, the requirement that law enforcement determine the immigration status of a person who has been lawfully stopped, detained, or arrested. However, the Supreme Court warned that this provision could still be ruled unconstitutional later. This essay provides an overview of SB 1070: it traces its historical background; discusses how it was understood and implemented; highlights the key role of media in framing the law and disseminating information locally, nationally, and globally with effects on public opinion; focuses attention on the effects of SB 1070 on key spheres of life for immigrants; points to broad effects of the law in the form of copycat laws around the country; and ends by pointing to the challenges to the bill through the courts and organizing efforts.

Historical Antecedents for SB 1070

SB 1070 did not surface out of the blue; it was the culmination of a series of restrictive immigration laws that Arizona had passed in prior years, a legal development with deep roots in the history of the state (Chin, et al. 2012). Key exclusionary laws preceded SB 1070, including Proposition 200 of 2004 (Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act), which prohibited the provision of public benefits to undocumented immigrants; the Anti-Smuggling Law of 2005; Propositions 100, 102, 103, and 300 passed in 2006 to add more restrictions to undocumented immigrants’ lives and criminalize their presence; and the 2008 Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA), which made Arizona the first state to require all businesses to use the federal E-Verify program to confirm employees’ work authorization (Alvord and Menjívar 2022, cited under Media Coverage. Sociohistorical legacies, racial history in the Southwest (Matos 2017), contemporary economic concerns in the wake of the Great Recession (Diaz, et al. 2011), and demographic changes (Wallace 2014) created a context where SB 1070 was seen as a response to increasing (undocumented) immigration. Arguing that federal inaction in immigration control imposed high costs on border states, Arizona lawmakers devised punitive measures that challenged the federal government’s established enforcement strategy (Eagly 2011). There is agreement among scholars that SB 1070 represented a continuation and escalation of the racist, nationalist ideologies that have historically marginalized people of Mexican descent in the region (Vélez-Ibáñez and Szecsy 2014). Thus, the impetus behind SB 1070 was animated by clear racial underpinnings (Jimenez 2012) and xenophobic undertones (Campbell 2011).

  • Campbell, Kristina. M. “The Road to S.B. 1070: How Arizona Became Ground Zero for the Immigrants’ Rights Movement and the Continuing Struggle for Latino Civil Rights in America.” Harvard Latino Law Review 14.1 (2011): 1–22.

    Author summarizes pre–SB 1070 immigration law in Arizona, noting its xenophobic undertones. Past legislation invoked alienage as a proxy for race or nationality; Arizona’s efforts to regulate immigration have become a form of “legitimized vigilantism” that encourages racial profiling. The author then focuses on the resistance in Latino communities to SB 1070, tracing the contours of immigrants’ rights struggles in a post–SB 1070 landscape.

  • Chin, Gabriel J., Carissa Byrne Hessick, and Marc L. Miller. “Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070: Politics through Immigration Law.” In Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media, and Provincial Politics. Edited by Otto Santa Ana and Celeste González de Bustamante, 64–80. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

    Authors examine the background, substance, and consequences of SB 1070, focusing on Arizona’s racial past viewed through the lens of its immigration laws. They situate SB 1070 in this history and argue that the law, though not a new development when viewed alongside this history, represented a “watershed moment” due to the level of public attention it garnered and its role as a catalyst for copycat bills around the country.

  • Diaz, Priscila, Delia S. Saenz, and Virginia S. Y. Kwan. “Economic Dynamics and Changes in Attitudes toward Undocumented Mexican Immigrants in Arizona: Economic Dynamics and Changes in Attitudes.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 11.1 (2011): 300–313.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-2415.2011.01255.x

    Examines trends in public opinion/sentiment toward undocumented Mexican immigrants in the years preceding the passage of SB 1070. Authors argue that the late 2000s recession exacerbated anti-immigrant sentiment among all ethnic groups, with white Americans demonstrating the highest levels and Latinos the lowest. Perceived economic threat is associated with more negative attitudes towards immigrant. Thus, the passage of SB 1070 is associated with the economic downturn.

  • Eagly, Ingrid V. “Local Immigration Prosecution: A Study of Arizona before SB 1070.” UCLA Law Review 58.6 (2011): 1749–1817.

    Examines the relationship between local, state, and federal governments in immigration enforcement. Prior to SB 1070, Arizona had already contested federal control over immigration based on crime control and prevention. As states play a greater role in adjudicating criminal (not civil) immigration cases, local prosecutors can criminalize actions associated with migration (e.g., efforts to criminalize “self-smuggling”) and develop penalties that differ from those pursued by federal prosecutors.

  • Jimenez, Lilian. “America’s Legacy of Xenophobia: The Curious Origins of Arizona Senate Bill 1070.” California Western Law Review 48.2 (2012): 279–316.

    Author deploys a CRT framework to examine the racial underpinnings of SB 1070 and argues that laws like SB 1070 emerged in response to demographic change despite claims that these laws are race neutral. The author examines the racialization of immigration law, both historically and in the context in which SB 1070 was created, and argues that SB 1070 was drafted by anti-immigrant activists with “anti-Latino predilection,” some of whom are connected to white supremacist groups.

  • Matos, Yalidy. “Geographies of Exclusion: The Importance of Racial Legacies in Examining State-Level Immigration Laws.” American Behavioral Scientist 61.8 (2017): 808–831.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002764217720480

    Author argues that immigration policies are conditioned by regional and sociohistorical legacies. In southern states, the out-group is black Americans, but in the Southwest, it is Latinos. Thus, southwestern states are less likely to frame migration through a black/white lens; instead, it is focused on Latinos. Legacies of southern racial history explain why some southern states passed similar SB 1070 laws despite having much smaller foreign-born populations.

  • Vélez-Ibáñez, Carlos G., and Elsie Szecsy. “Politics, Process, Culture and Human Folly: Life among Arizonans and the Reality of a Transborder World.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 29.4 (2014): 405–417.

    DOI: 10.1080/08865655.2014.982472

    Authors examine the role of language and the changing political demography in Arizona as key driving forces behind the development of SB 1070. The authors analyze the development of “anti-Mexican nationalist ideology” in the Arizona legislature and the historical antecedents of laws like SB 1070, tracking various efforts to “subordinate much of the cultural, linguistic, and spatial heritage of the [Mexican origin] population” of Arizona (p. 405).

  • Wallace, Sophia J. “Papers Please: State-Level Anti-Immigrant Legislation in the Wake of Arizona’s SB 1070.” Political Science Quarterly 129.2 (2014): 261–291.

    DOI: 10.1002/polq.12178

    Author examines the trend of SB 1070 copycat laws introduced in twenty-three state legislatures in the years following its passage in Arizona and discusses the factors that may influence the introduction of such legislation: political party control, assimilation, economic concerns, representation, and demographic changes. Economic concerns and Republican control of the legislature are key in states’ decisions to introduce copycat legislation, but demographic change and Latino representation in state legislatures are not.

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