The Forgotten Equality Norm in Immigration Preemption: Discrimination, Harassment, and the Civil Rights Act of 1870
52 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2013 Last revised: 2 Dec 2013
Date Written: October 1, 2013
The current debate over immigration federalism overlooks the significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1870 as a limit on state and local immigration legislation. The 1870 Act, passed by the Reconstruction Congress, includes prohibitions on “alienage” discrimination in “every State and Territory” that remain embedded in federal law. This Article seeks to revive the Act’s importance to contemporary Supremacy Clause analysis by recounting the history of the 1870 legislation and reviewing the Supreme Court’s invocation of the Civil Rights Act across many decades to preempt sub-federal immigration laws.
Revitalizing the federal alienage protections of the 1870 Act has significant consequences for immigration federalism today. The Article argues that the civil rights “immigrant equality” mandate requires courts to consider the discriminatory consequences of sub-federal laws as a facet of federal supremacy. The equality norm of the Civil Rights Act draws an important distinction between immigrant-hostile state laws that engender discrimination and immigrant-friendly (so-called “sanctuary”) laws that seek to further immigrant protection. The Act erects a federal barrier to local measures that target immigrants for enforcement and provides leeway for local initiatives that diminish the salience of immigration status in state and local matters.
Keywords: immigration, federalism, equality, discrimination, civil rights, preemption, supremacy clause, Civil Rights Act of 1870, Arizona, SB1070
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