But in letting stand the Arizona law’s most controversial part – the provision requiring police to check the status of someone they suspect is undocumented when stopped for another violation – the high court has ensured that immigration will remain a hot-button issue through the fall elections.
Both President Obama and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) declared victories of sorts in their statements. Mr. Obama stated that he was pleased the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law, known as SB 1070, but expressed concern about the practical impact of the provision that the court allowed to stand, dubbed “show me your papers.”
“What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform,” Obama said in a written statement. “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”
Governor Brewer, who became the face of states’ frustration over America’s broken immigration system, put out a statement calling the decision “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,” Brewer said. “After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the US Constitution.”
In contrast, Obama’s likely challenger in the fall, Mitt Romney, issued a statement that skipped over the specifics of the ruling, going right into an attack on Obama. Mr. Romney asserted that Obama has broken his promise to provide leadership on immigration.
“Today's decision underscores the need for a president who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy,” Romney 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,” he continued. “As candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office. But four years later, we are still waiting.”
Romney has made this point before, including last Thursday in a speech to Latino leaders from around the country. In his own address to the same group last Friday, Obama blamed the stalemate in Washington politics for the lack of progress on comprehensive immigration reform. He noted Congress’s inability to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that offers some young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Instead, he took executive action to enact a policy that halts deportations for some young illegal immigrants, but does not provide a path to citizenship.
Since Obama’s announcement June 15 of what some have dubbed “DREAM Act Lite,” Romney has avoided addressing the issue head-on. His vagueness, which continued on Monday after the Arizona ruling, emphasizes the tough spot he is in. If he revives the tough rhetoric he engaged in during the primaries – suggesting at one point that illegal immigrants “self-deport” – he will alienate Latino voters, a fast-growing bloc that could be crucial in key swing states. But if he sounds too accommodating, he could alienate his conservative base.
Obama’s statement was far more expansive and specific on the court’s ruling.
“I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally,” the president said. “I agree with the court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”
He continued, “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.”
That last statement could foreshadow challenges to the law once it goes into effect on grounds of racial profiling.
Three provisions of the Arizona law were struck down: One making it a crime for an immigrant to fail to register according to federal law. One that bars an illegal immigrant from working or looking for work. And one allowing police to arrest someone without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe the immigrant did something that would make them deportable.