No clear winner in Arizona immigration ruling

Published: Monday, June 25 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Utah community leaders hold a press conference after the Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's anti-immigrant law at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City Monday, June 25, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday to strike down three out of four key elements of Arizona's tough immigration law had people on both sides of the issue trumpeting victory Monday.

In a 5-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said Arizona's law infringed on congressional authority over the nation's borders. The court rejected parts of law that made it a state crime to fail to carry alien registration papers and authorized warrantless arrests of people suspected of committing deportable offenses. The court also struck down a provision that made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to seek work.

But the court upheld the law's much-debated "show me your papers" provision, which requires state and local police to check immigration status during lawful traffic stops.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a mixed one," said Arizona Rep. Kirk Adams. "Immigration will continue to be a primary responsibility of the federal government but, as this decision confirms, state and local law enforcement have an important role to play."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer hailed the decision as a "victory for the rule of law."

"It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens," she said in a statement.

Brewer said she expects her critics, who "undoubtedly will allege inequities in the implementation of the law," to regroup and pursue new litigation tactics.

"As I said two years ago on the day I signed SB 1070 into law, we cannot give them that chance," she said. "We must use this new tool wisely, and fight for our safety with the honor Arizona deserves."

Immigrant advocates called the decision "encouraging," a "step in the right direction" and "a major court victory for immigrant communities."

"The decision to strike down key provisions of this legislation is a victory for everyone in the faith community who seeks to follow the Bible's call for concern for the vulnerable and 'stranger' among us," said Rev. Jim Wallis, president and CEO of Sojourners, a national Christian organization committed to social justice. "Arizona's immoral legislation threatened families, harmed children and made it difficult for law enforcement to safeguard the communities they swore to protect."

It's vital, though, he said to "ensure any remaining parts of the legislation are never used to justify racial profiling by local police."

Already, immigrant advocates are pushing for renewed effort in the battle against state immigration enforcement policies.

“By allowing that section to remain, the court is condoning state interference in immigration enforcement,” Laura Lichter, president of the American Immigration Lawyer's Association, said in a statement. "Across the country, this patchwork of state laws is creating more confusion in an already chaotic immigration system and burdening communities with legal costs as these discriminatory laws are challenged in court."

While the ruling was mixed, legal experts said Monday's decision favored opponents of the law.

"Three of the four provisions were struck down outright, and the fourth — the so-called 'papers please' provision — was upheld on narrow grounds, on a very narrow understanding of how that portion of the bill will be applied," Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, told The Wall Street Journal. "The 'papers please' provision [section 2(B) of the law] got the lion’s share of media attention, so supporters of the law have something to cheer about. But Justice Kennedy gave a clear signal that it could still be struck down at a later time if it’s applied in a way that doesn’t comport with the Constitution. Kennedy upheld 2(B) on the assumption that it will be reasonably applied."

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