Arizona immigration law pruned but police can check status of “suspected illegals”
The U.S. Supreme Court scaled back Arizona’s first-of-its-kind crackdown on illegal immigrants, striking down three provisions in a decision that asserts the federal government’s exclusive role to set immigration policy.
The ruling released Monday leaves intact, for now, the law’s centerpiece requirement that Arizona police check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. Even so, the 5-3 decision took some of the force from that provision by invalidating parts of the law that would have given the state’s police more power to arrest people for immigration violations.
The ruling gives President Barack Obama’s administration most of what it sought when it sued to block the Arizona law. Supporters of the law said the federal government isn’t doing enough to crack down on an estimated 11.5 million people in the country illegally.
“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
The decision may undercut parts of similar laws in other states and will have repercussions for the November presidential election as Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney vie for Hispanic votes.
Obama, in a statement, said the decision highlights the need for congressional action on a comprehensive update of immigration laws, not a “patchwork” of state rules.
“I will work with anyone in Congress who’s willing to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our economic needs and security needs, and upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. In the meantime, he said, “We must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans.”
The Arizona provision that will go into effect, known informally as the “show me your papers” requirement, instructs police officers to check immigration status when they arrest or stop someone and have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the US illegally.
Kennedy suggested that provision would be invalid if it caused police to hold people longer than they otherwise would. “Detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns,” he wrote.
He said it was too soon to determine whether that would be the consequence. “There is a basic uncertainty about what the law means and how it will be enforced,” Kennedy wrote. He added the ruling “does not foreclose other pre-emption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”
The justices invalidated criminal restrictions that would have barred those in the US illegally from seeking work or being in Arizona without proper documentation. A third invalidated provision said police could arrest people they suspected were eligible to be deported.
Today’s ruling is “a clear rebuke to Arizona and its attempt to create its own immigration law,” said Omar Jadwat, an immigration attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. The ruling means that “states really have very little room to operate in this area.”
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer called the ruling a victory for her state while saying the law was likely to face additional legal challenges.
“Arizona is prepared to move forward to enforce this law that we have fought so hard to defend,” Brewer said at a news conference on Monday. She said “racial profiling will not be tolerated” in implementing the measure.
The Supreme Court didn’t consider claims that the law will lead to racial profiling by police officers. That issue is part of a separate lawsuit being waged by civil rights advocates against the Arizona measure.