The US Supreme Court struck down key provisions of a border state’s harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants, but it did little to finally settle the nation’s raging political dispute on immigration, a divisive issue on which US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are deeply at odds.
While the conservative-dominated high court ruling released on Monday found much of the Arizona law unconstitutional, it did rule that one part would stand — the portion requiring police to check the status of someone they suspect is not in the US legally. Even there, though, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges.
Obama issued a statement declaring he was “pleased” with the ruling, but cautioned that the enforcement provision left standing was wrong.
“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Obama said in a statement. “Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the Court’s decision recognizes.”
Romney did not immediately comment on the court decision, but he said, “I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities.”
Arizona’s long southern boundary borders Mexico.
The Arizona decision landed in the middle of a presidential campaign in which Obama has been heavily courting Latino voters and Romney has been struggling to win Latino support. During a drawn-out primary campaign, Romney and the other Republican candidates mostly embraced a hard line to avoid accusations that they support any kind of “amnesty” for illegal immigrants living in the US.
Romney has lately taken a softer tone on immigration as a result of Obama’s having issued an executive ruling that ends deportation of young people brought illegally into the country as children.
The Obama administration had assailed the Arizona law as an unconstitutional intrusion into an area under Washington’s control and the court struck down provisions that would have made state crimes out of federal immigration violations.
However, several lawmakers and civil rights groups said the part of the law left in place by the high court was an invitation to racial profiling.
The Arizona decision upholds the “show me your papers” provision for the moment.
In Monday’s decision, the court was unanimous on allowing the immigration status check to go forward. The justices were divided on striking down the other portions.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law could — and suggested it should — be read to avoid concerns that status checks could lead to prolonged detention.
The court struck down these three major provisions: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Civil rights groups that separately challenged the law over concerns that it would lead to rights abuses said their lawsuit would go on.
Even with the limitations the high court put on Arizona, the immigration status check still is “an invitation to racial profiling,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Omar Jadwat said.