Rebellious State Crimmigration Enforcement and the Foreign Affairs Power

40 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2012 Last revised: 28 Jul 2012

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law

Date Written: February 10, 2012


The propriety of a new breed of state laws interfering in immigration enforcement is pending before the Supreme Court and the lower courts. These laws typically incorporate federal standards related to the criminalization of immigration (“crimmigration”), but diverge aggressively from federal enforcement policy. Enacting states argue that the legislation is merely a species of “cooperative federalism” that does not trespass upon the federal power over foreign affairs, foreign commerce, and nationality rules since the laws mirror federal standards. This Article challenges the formalist mirror theory assumptions behind the new laws and argues that inconsistent state crimmigration enforcement policy and resulting foreign affairs complications render the new spate of immigration policing laws infirm. The Article argues for the need to give due weight to statements of interest by the executive on the foreign affairs implications of rebellious state crimmigration enforcement.

This Article argues that the caste-carving approach of the “attrition through enforcement” multi-front attack strategy behind the laws contravenes national immigration enforcement policy and strains foreign relations. The analysis provides a basis for distinguishing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, which upheld a state employer licensing law from the current spate of legislation pending in the courts. The distinction that makes a difference is conflict with a national enforcement policy calibrated to avoid turning suspected foreign nationals into untouchable caste-like “subjects of suspicion and abuse,” thereby marring community and international relations. The analysis in the crimmigration context also enriches our understanding of what cooperative — and uncooperative — federalism enforcement means and the dangers of the phenomenon in areas of special national concern fraught with localized animosity.

Keywords: Arizona v. United States, United States v. Alabama, Foreign Affairs, Preemption, Caste, Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, Alabama HB 56, Arizona SB 1070, GA HB 87, Utah HB 497, Beason-Hammon, Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act, Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, Rebellious State Crimmigration Enforcement and the Foreign Affairs Power (February 10, 2012). Washington University Law Review, Vol. 89, 2012 , University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2011-32, Available at SSRN:

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States


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