The long-awaited Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration law ultimately didn’t end a war as much as launch a new battle on immigration over police racial profiling — no matter how much each side trumpets what amount to hollow political victories.
President Barack Obama, who intervened in the case against the Arizona law, has claimed a big political win with the court’s ruling that regulating immigration is the province of the federal government, as Obama has argued.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would appear to have suffered a setback, even as he attempts to walk a tightrope on the issue that could doom the GOP nationally much as a 1994 anti-immigrant law spelled disaster for the party in California.
But the problem for Obama and immigrants right advocates is that the court’s decision upheld the section of the Arizona law that is most troublesome — the part that Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, fears “will lead to a system of racial profiling” by police.
The Supreme Court left standing the part of SB1070 allowing police to stop, question and briefly detain immigrants if they have reason to believe they are in the country illegally.
“The real make or break was the show-me-your-papers provision,” said Frank Sharry of the immigration reform lobby group America’s Voice. “Basically they upheld it.”
It is over that remaining part of the Arizona immigration law that Republicans and backers of the statue are claiming victory while Democrats and immigrants rights groups are issuing a political rally cry for the fall. It is also that part that portends the new battle on immigration.
But it is also over that “show me papers” aspect of the law that both sides are preparing for future legal battles that are almost certain to extract the same emotionally divisive tone as has the Arizona law since its enactment two years ago.
“By requiring police officers to demand documents of anyone they suspect of being in the country without authorization, Arizona risks creating a culture of fear and suspicion,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the president’s leading Latino political surrogate. “Implementation of the law will undermine the trust between the police and the public, driving a wedge between police officers and the community they serve.
“The ‘papers please’ provision opens the door for racial profiling, and I believe it will be impossible to implement this law without discrimination. This will just invite further litigation.”
For the time being, too, what the high court left in place raises the specter of more similar copycat laws, according to both legal scholars and immigrants rights advocates.”
“By upholding Arizona’s ‘check your papers’ provision, at least for now, the court has given other states a green light to try to enact similar immigration laws,” said Steve Yale-Loehr, an immigration law specialist at Cornell University. “Some will be anti-immigrant, like Arizona’s. But other new state laws may be pro-immigrant, as states realize the importance of immigrants in their communities.
“The decision increases pressure on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration law to prevent a crazy patchwork of conflicting immigration laws around the country.”
Actually, efforts to copy the Arizona law are already underway. Lawmakers in dozens of other states have proposed — and in five states have passed — similar immigration enforcement legislation.
“There are lots of Joe Arpaios out there,” Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy for the advocacy organization Center for American Progress, said in a reference to the Arizona sheriff accused by critics of racial profiling. “States will say, ‘Look, they upheld this.’”
Politically, the major questions immediately raised are whether the court decision forces Romney’s hand on an issue he hasn’t seriously dealt with since emerging from the primaries with the nomination in hand. Is there any reason to think that he will now, after a split court decision that leaves part of the Arizona law in tact, respond any differently.
And realistically, is there anything Romney can do on the immigration issue that would win him any more Latino votes than he would possibly alienate from the far right of his party?
For Obama, the question is what can he do to placate the immigrants rights advocates and Hispanic voters who, until recently, had been reacting to him in a lukewarm fashion?
“A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system — it’s part of the problem,” Obama said in a statement after the ruling.
But Obama could begin by mending the deportation system currently in place, says Jorge Mario Cabrera of the immigrant advocacy group CHIRLA –the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles — which says Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials deal with applicants in a harsh manner in which few have any chance.
According to Cabrera, of some 53,000 deportation cases are in review by ICE officials in Los Angeles, but only 220 have received deportation relief. The other 99.9 percent of the cases have been denied and a deportation order issued in a pattern of disregard to the administrative changes ordered by the White House and ICE Director John Morton, says Cabrera.
While this is not a part of the Arizona law or the court’s ruling Monday, it goes to show the complexity of the immigration issue which seems to elicit more political bravado than solutions from both sides.
“The fact remains that we have an immigration system that is broken A to Z,” said U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-FL. “The only reason Arizona passed this law was because the federal government isn’t doing it’s job.
“States obviously see such a huge vacuum on this issue that they take it upon themselves to do something. They way overstepped in Arizona, as the court showed. But the issue is not resolved.”
Democrats were equally quick to portray Republicans as being in a Kamikaze political mission over immigration with Douglas Rivlin, press secretary for Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D D-Ill., going beyond anything his boss said.
“Mitt Romney,” said Rivlin, “is clearly in favor of SB1070 political suicide.”
Meanwhile, immigration advocates and supporters immediately tried to portray the threat of racial profiling left in the high court decision into a rallying cry to boost voter turnout in the November general election.
“I believe the most important march that we can have is the march to the voting booth in November to weigh in against this terrible law and to make sure that we can have accountability in those officials that we elect,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court allowed the ‘heart of the problem’ in SB1070 to stand and failed to decisively remove the bull’s eye from the backs of Arizona Latinos leaving it to future lawsuits to address.”