Immigration and Civil Rights: State and Local Efforts to Regulate Immigration

31 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2012 Last revised: 29 Apr 2012

See all articles by Kevin R. Johnson

Kevin R. Johnson

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: April 25, 2012


This essay, part of a civil rights symposium, considers how the current legal challenges to the constitutionality of the spate of state and local immigration measures often focuses on federal preemption and the Supremacy Clause — a relatively dry, if not altogether juiceless, body of law. The legal analysis in the courts of such measures often fails to directly address the civil rights impacts on minority communities. Part II begins by looking generally at the law surrounding federal primacy over immigration. Part III reviews the Supreme Court’s decision in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, which interpreted a narrow provision of the U.S. immigration laws to reject a federal preemption challenge to Arizona’s effort to regulate immigration through a business licensing law. Part IV considers the impact of the Whiting decision on the Court of Appeal’s invalidation of core immigration provisions of Arizona’s S.B. 10708 in United States v. Arizona, perhaps the most controversial state immigration regulation measure in a time in which state and local legislatures have passed a veritable avalanche of such measures. Last but not least, Part V analyzes the civil rights concerns at the core of state and local efforts to regulate immigration. This essay considers how immigration enforcement by any level of government raises civil rights concerns but, given the greater likelihood of nativist sentiment prevailing at the regional level, contends that the potential civil rights impacts are greater with state and local immigration enforcement measures than national ones.

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Kevin R., Immigration and Civil Rights: State and Local Efforts to Regulate Immigration (April 25, 2012). Georgia Law Review, Forthcoming; UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 293. Available at SSRN:

Kevin R. Johnson (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

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Davis, CA 95616-5201
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