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In Arizona, cheers and disillusionment follow immigration ruling

June 25, 2012|By Paloma Esquivel and John M. Glionna | This post has been corrected. See below for details

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called it a victory for all Americans. But undocumented worker Jorge Martinez said the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday to uphold part of the state's immigration law was a bitter defeat that would cause fear among immigrants and Latinos.

“I feel disillusioned,” said the immigrant activist in Phoenix. “I didn't think this would happen.”

For many, the court’s decision today was a mixed bag that would no doubt see another day in court. The high court struck down most of  Arizona’s strict law targeting illegal immigrants, but said Arizona can require police officers to inquire about immigration status of people detained for other, legitimate reasons. 

The justices also said the federal government has the ultimate authority to decide who will be held on immigration charges and deported. Police departments must check with federal immigration agents before deciding to hold the suspects.

[For the record, June 25, 1:34 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said the Supreme Court upheld the law that says Arizona police officers can stop, question and briefly detain immigrants if they have reason to believe they are in the country illegally. It also said officers can stop people they suspect are illegal immigrants. The court upheld the portion of the Arizona law, SB1070, that requires officers to make a “reasonable attempt” to determine a person’s immigration status if he or she has been stopped for a legitimate reason.]

The justices also blocked parts of Arizona's SB 1070 that would have made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to not carry documents or to seek work. The court's decision appears to give states such as Arizona a quite-limited role in enforcing laws against illegal immigrants. Police departments can notify federal agents if they have a suspect in custody, but they cannot keep the suspect in a county jail on simply on state immigration charges.

Reaction to the ruling varied widely. Proponents of anti-immigration laws called the decision a first step to an America with more secure borders. Many immigrants, either with legal documents or without, fear the law will break up families.

Arizona Democratic Party Executive Director Luis Heredia said he was disappointed by the decision. “The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled section 2B of SB 1070 to be constitutional. That does not make it just or moral. Other parts were ruled unconstitutional as further evidence why this law is flawed…. This law does nothing to protect or strengthen Arizona.”

Immigrant activists also blasted parts of the decision that gave police more powers in stopping undocumented workers.

“Women immigrants are making enormous social and economic contributions in communities across the United States,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “Laws like SB 1070 completely ignore this reality — and reflect a broken system that leaves women in the shadows.”

Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, echoed those sentiments. “SB 1070, even with some provisions removed, threatens to tear families apart and create a dangerous level of mistrust between law enforcement and women immigrants who fear detention,” she said.

“By upholding one of the most harmful provisions of the law, the U.S. Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent.”

But conservatives called the decision a warning to the federal government to shore up the nation’s borders from illegal immigration.

"It's time for the federal government to step up to its constitutional responsibility to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws fairly, and to partner with states rather than sue them to accomplish this important objective,” said Rick Santorum, a former GOP presidential candidate.

Last year, several states and municipal governments passed new laws to crack down on illegal immigration, following Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which Brewer signed into law in April 2010. While legislatures in Utah, Indiana and Georgia passed bills that featured many of the same sanctions against illegal immigrants as Arizona, the most restrictive law came from Alabama, which Gov. Robert Bentley called “the strongest immigration law in the country.”

Alabama’s law prompted three legal challenges, including a lawsuit by the Obama administration, which contended Alabama had usurped powers that rightfully belong to the federal government.

Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, on Monday said she saw hope in the Supreme Court’s decision.

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