Opponents of Arizona’s unprecedented immigration law are claiming a partial victory today after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all but one of four controversial provisions.

The court reaffirmed the federal government’s sole governance in enforcing laws against illegal immigration. In doing so, it negated parts of Arizona’s law that allowed police officers to arrest, without a warrant, anyone suspected of having committed a deportable crime; and the criminalization of undocumented immigrants who seek work in the state or who do not carry immigration papers.
“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the 5-3 majority, “but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

He continued, “Federal law makes a single sovereign responsible for maintaining a comprehensive and unified system to keep track of aliens within the nation’s borders.” And, if Arizona were allowed to pursue some of the policies in SB 1070, “every state could give itself independent authority to prosecute federal registration violations.”
The Obama administration, which argued against the immigration law in court, expressed approval of the court’s ruling.

“I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” President Obama said in a statement. “What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”

However, both the president and immigration advocacy groups expressed dismay over the court’s decision to uphold the “papers please” provision of the law, which stirred the most contention. That provision empowers police officers to check the immigration status of anyone stopped, detained or arrested who they reasonably believe may be illegally present in the U.S. It also requires officers to check detainees’ immigration papers before they are released.

Detractors say the measure fosters racial profiling.

“Racial profiling has been green lighted, the Constitution has been weakened, and our nation has been shamed,” said Ana Garcia Ashley, executive director, Gamaliel, a nonprofit, faith-based network of local affiliates that carries out social justice campaigns. She added, “This ruling makes America in 2012 much like South Africa in 1948 when apartheid ruled and minorities were forced to carry papers.”

SEIU International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina also decried the ruling, declaring, “today is not a good day for justice in America.”

The ruling could have a profound impact on the November elections, the labor union suggested, as it could rally a robust Latino electorate to show up at the polls.
“The Court may have decided, but we – the people – will have the final say,” Medina said.

“This ruling makes clear that our campaign to mobilize Latino voters and communities of color to organize and grow our electoral power is an absolute necessity. On November 6, we will be heard at the ballot box. And with our votes we will nullify the ruling by pushing Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform… that will silence the attacks on our immigrant communities in each state…
“If lawmakers expect us to vote for them, we will expect action by them.”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO