Arizona immigrant law mostly struck down


THE US Supreme Court yesterday struck down three of four key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law but let the most controversial section stand. This requires police to verify the immigration status of anyone stopped or detained.

Five of eight justices found against sections of the law that would allow police to arrest people on the mere suspicion they are in Arizona illegally; force Arizonans to carry documents proving their immigration status; and make it a crime to seek or hold a job without residence papers.

President Barack Obama said in a statement that he was “pleased” the court had struck down key provisions, but deplored the fact that section 2(B) of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighbourhoods Act – known as the “papers please” clause, was upheld.

“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Mr Obama said. “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.”

Immigration emerged as a major issue in the US presidential campaign on June 15th, when Mr Obama issued an executive order stopping the deportation of some 800,000 immigrants, mostly Hispanic, who were brought to the US illegally as children.

The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has refused to say whether he would maintain Mr Obama’s directive and has left vague the outlines of the permanent solution he says he would seek through legislation.

Mr Obama said the court ruling “makes unmistakably clear 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,” he said.

Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have passed laws similar to Arizona’s and are likely to be encouraged by yesterday’s ruling.

Mr Romney placed himself to the far right on immigration during the Republican primaries, publicly allying himself with Arizona hardliners. He said the court decision showed Mr Obama has failed to lead and “represents yet another broken promise by the president”.

Governor Jan Brewer signed the law in 2010 but it did not take effect because of multiple legal challenges, including the federal government’s suit based on the argument that Arizona had pre-empted federal control over immigration law.

The Supreme Court did not consider arguments that section 2 (B) implies racial profiling of people of Hispanic origin. In the majority opinion drafted by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who habitually provides the pivotal swing vote on the court, five justices said it could not be determined whether the law is discriminatory because it has not yet been implemented.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, and the liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor supported the majority opinion. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had worked on immigration as solicitor general. The conservative justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented in part.

Like the verdict on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which will be delivered on Thursday, the Arizona law was seen as a test of the constitution’s 10th amendment guarantee of states’ rights.

“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,” Mr Romney said.