Center for Immigration Studies on the New Arizona Immigration Law, SB1070

By Steven A. Camarota on April 29, 2010

Related Content: Arizona Law SB 1070 Topic Page

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2010) – The new law recently signed by the governor of Arizona, SB 1070, makes it a crime to violate some federal immigration statutes. While the law is extremely popular in the state, with 70 percent of Arizona voters approving of it and just 23 percent opposed, it has raised controversy. Below is a brief summary of the relevant information on illegal immigration in Arizona, followed by a short analysis of SB 1070’s major provisions.

Illegal immigration in Arizona:

  • The federal government estimated that Arizona had one of the fastest growing illegal immigrant populations in the country, increasing from 330,000 in 2000 to 560,000 by 2008.1

  • Arizona has adopted other laws to deter the settlement of illegal immigrants in the state in recent years. The federal government estimates that the illegal immigrant population dropped by 18 percent in the state from 2008 to 2009, compared to a 7 percent drop for the nation as a whole.2 This may be evidence that the state enforcement efforts are having an impact.

  • The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has found that 22 percent of felonies in the county are committed by illegal immigrants.3 Illegal immigrants are estimated to be 10 percent of the county’s adult population.4

  • Analysis of data from State Criminal Alien Assistance Program showed that illegal immigrants were 11 percent of the state’s prison population. Illegal immigrants were estimated to be 8 percent of state’s adult population at the time of the analysis.5

  • Approximately 17 percent of those arrested by the Border Patrol in its Tucson Sector have criminal records in the United States.6

  • The issue of illegal immigration and crime is very difficult to measure, and while in Arizona there is evidence that illegal immigrants are committing a disproportionate share of crime, it is not clear this is the case nationally.7

  • In 2007, the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that 12 percent of workers in Arizona are illegal immigrants.8

  • In 2007, the Center estimated that illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children (under 18) comprise one-fifth of those in the state living in poverty, one-third of those without health insurance, and one out of six students in the state’s schools.9

  • In 2007, the Center estimated that one-third of households headed by illegal immigrants in Arizona used at least one major welfare program, primarily food-assistance programs or Medicaid. Benefits were typically received on behalf of U.S.-born children.10

  • The new law (SB 1070) is extremely popular among Arizona voters. A Rasmussen poll found that 70 percent of voters approve of the new bill, and just 23 percent oppose it.11

Among the new law’s provisions:

  • The new Arizona law mirrors federal law, which already requires aliens (non-citizens) to register and carry their documents with them (8 USC 1304(e) and 8 USC 1306(a)). The new Arizona law simply states that violating federal immigration law is now a state crime as well. Because illegal immigrants are by definition in violation of federal immigration laws, they can now be arrested by local law enforcement in Arizona.

  • The law is designed to avoid the legal pitfall of “pre-emption,” which means a state can’t adopt laws that conflict with federal laws. By making what is a federal violation also a state violation, the Arizona law avoids this problem.

  • The law only allows police to ask about immigration status in the normal course of “lawful contact” with a person, such as a traffic stop or if they have committed a crime.

  • Estimates from the federal government indicate that more than 80 percent of illegal immigrants come from Latin America.12 Thus, there is concern that police may target only Hispanics for enforcement.

  • Before asking a person about immigration status, law enforcement officials are required by the law to have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an illegal immigrant. The concept of “reasonable suspicion” is well established by court rulings. Since Arizona does not issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, having a valid license creates a presumption of legal status. Examples of reasonable suspicion include:

    • A driver stopped for a traffic violation has no license, or record of a driver's license or other form of federal or state identification.

    • A police officer observes someone buying fraudulent identity documents or crossing the border illegally.
    • A police officer recognizes a gang member back on the street who he knows has been previously deported by the federal government.

  • The law specifically states that police, “may not solely consider race, color or national origin” when implementing SB 1070.

  • When Arizona’s governor signed the new law, she also issued an executive order requiring the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board to provide local police with additional training on what does and what does not constitute “reasonable suspicion.”13

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The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent non-partisan research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States. It is not involved in drafting legislation and has not formally endorsed or opposed SB 1070.


1 See Table 4 “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2008,”

2 See "Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009,” Table 4, See also Table 4 “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2008,”

3 The Maricopa County Attorney’s office report is at:

4 See Table 3 in “Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue,”

5 See Table 6 in “Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue,”

6 See “The Krentz Bonfire: Will the murder of a respected Cochise County rancher change anything on our border?”
Tucson Weekly, April 29, 2010,

7 The Center for Immigration Studies has conducted a detailed review of the literature and data available on crime. Nationally it is very difficult to come to a clear conclusion about crime rates among immigrants. The report, “Immigration and Crime: Assessing a Conflicted Issue,” is at:

8 See Tables 21 in “Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America's Foreign-Born Population,”

9 See Tables 23, 24, and 26 in “Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America's Foreign-Born Population,”

10 See Tables 25 in “Immigrants in the United States, 2007: A Profile of America's Foreign-Born Population,”

11 Rasmussen poll released April 21, 2010, of likely voters in Arizona,

12 See "Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009,” Figure 2,

13 See