The Supreme Court this week rejected a bid to hear a case concerning a law that denied bail to undocumented immigrants living in Arizona charged with certain felonies.

Monday's ruling, which effectively deemed the law unconstitutional, is the second victory this year for pro-immigration advocates in a state where anti-immigrant sentiment has held sway for the past 10 years.

The disputed law is among a series of statutes Arizona voters and lawmakers have implemented in a strategy dubbed “attrition through enforcement,” by which the state's large unauthorized immigrant population (300,000 people as of 2012, according to a report from the Pew Research Center) is gradually nudged out through mounting legal challenges that create an environment inhospitable to outsiders, according to a 2012 report by the Immigration Policy Center.

The effect of attrition through enforcement, the report states, is not “self-deportation” but turmoil among a population that has a poverty rate nearly double of U.S. citizens, according to a separate Pew Research Center report.

“While individual proposals may appear to be relatively benign,” it states, “they are part of a larger systematic plan that undermines basic human rights, devastates local economies, and places unnecessary burdens on U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants.”

Supporters of attrition through enforcement, including organizations like NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, argue that the practice is a cost-effective and workable solution to bring down the undocumented immigrant population, compared to forced deportation.

"Over time, the attrition plan will reduce the number of new illegal arrivals and persuade a large share of illegal aliens already here to deport themselves," a CIS blog predicted in 2012.

Here is a timeline of the attrition-through-enforcement laws in Arizona, leading up to Monday's decision, and the court rulings that upheld or dismantled them.


Proposition 200, also known as Protect Arizona Now, passed in the November election with a majority of the vote (in spite of opposition from the state’s political establishment). The law requires proof of citizenship to register to vote and identification before receiving a ballot at the polling place. Nor could persons apply for childcare, housing assistance and state-funded benefits, among other things, without proof of citizenship.


Voters overwhelmingly supported making English the state’s official language. The United States does not have an official language. Other referendums were passed, including one that denied bail to undocumented immigrants arrested for certain felonies and another, called Proposition 300, that disqualified students without lawful immigration status from receiving in-state tuition rates or state financial aid.


The state Legislature's “Employer Sanctions Law” (Arizona’s Fair and Legal Employment Act), passed months earlier, officially goes into effect. While sanctioning employers for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants is typically the job of the federal government, the law passed that role to Arizona to ensure stricter oversight. The law requires all businesses to screen new hires using an online federal database, called E-Verify, an extra step federal law decided to be voluntary. Gov. Janet Napolitano, who served as secretary of Homeland Security during President Barack Obama’s first term, called the bill a “business death penalty.”


Gov. Jan. Brewer signed into law SB 1070. The law was, at the time, the strictest piece of anti-immigration legislation in the country, according to The New York Times. It was also the most controversial, igniting fierce opposition in Arizona and nationally, including rare opposition from the White House. The law opens with an explicit declaration of its goal: "to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona." In practice, the law requires officers demand to see immigration documents from an arrested or detained person when there is “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is in the country illegally. Critics feared that the “show me your papers” provision was institutionalizing racial profiling.


Supreme Court upholds the “Employer Sanctions Law” from 2008, “rejecting arguments that states have no role in immigration matters,” according to NPR.


The Supreme Court upholds the “show me your papers” clause of SB 1070.


Proposition 200 struck down by Supreme Court nearly nine years after its passage, its implementation trumped by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which doesn’t require documentation beyond the basic information requested from the standard registration form.


May 5 — An Arizona judge ruled that dreamers — or undocumented adults brought into the country illegally as children living in Arizona can pay the same tuition rates at state schools that other residents pay, overturning 2006’s Proposition 300.

June 1 — The Supreme Court rejects a bid from a Phoenix prosecutor to hear a decision from a lower court that struck down the 2006 referendum that denied bail to undocumented immigrants charged with certain felonies.

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