Arizonans take stock of Supreme Court hearing on state immigration law

On the same day the Arizona immigration law had its day in court – the US Supreme Court – the state's residents held rallies both for and against it. For critics, the issue is racial profiling. For the high court, it's federal vs. state authority. 

Matt York/AP
Protesters march past the Maricopa County Sheriff's jail in protest against Arizona's illegal immigration law, SB 1070, Wednesday in Phoenix. In Washington, US Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in a case testing the state's prerogative to enact its own law dealing with immigration enforcement, which the Obama administration says is a federal duty.

Arizonans marched and protested Wednesday, some in support of their state's tough immigration law and others against it, even as news reports emerged about how the law had fared during its test at the US Supreme Court, 2,300 miles away.

The justices' line of questioning suggested at least some sympathy for Arizona's position, but both sides nonetheless expressed optimism that the court will side with their views. 

On the law's day of reckoning, about 500 people held a rally and march in Phoenix to protest it. SB 1070, as the law is known, makes it a crime to live and work in Arizona illegally. 

"I'm hopeful that the Supreme Court will strike it down,” says George De Luna, who demonstrated against the measure with his teenage daughter, Teresa. “I don't like SB 1070; I don't like the fact that it can single people out just because of the color of their skin and the suspicion that they might be illegal.”

Meanwhile, dozens of tea party supporters gathered at the state Capitol to express their continued support for SB 1070. Supporters don't buy the argument that the law invites racial profiling, saying it simply gives local and state law enforcement agencies another tool to combat illegal immigration, something Arizona contends the US government has failed to do efficiently. The issue before the high court involves not the question of racial profiling but rather of federal preemption – federal law superseding state law.

“Arizona has a direct responsibility to its citizens to enforce the law, whether the federal government likes it or not,” former state Sen. Russell Pearce (R), who attended the oral arguments in Washington, told reporters after the hearing.

The justices understood that the Obama administration “was overreaching,” said Mr. Pearce, who pushed the measure through the Arizona Legislature and promoted it across the nation. He lost his seat in a November recall election but is running for a state Senate seat again this year.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who signed SB 1070 into law in April 2010, said in a statement after the hearing that she is “filled with optimism – the kind that comes with knowing that Arizona's cause is just and its course is true.”

The law has galvanized Latinos and other opponents of the law to become politically active. Droves of high school and college students took part in the Phoenix march, and many registered to vote at the event. Police arrested at least a half-dozen people for blocking traffic during rush hour.

The march was reminiscent of those that followed adoption of the law, which has been in legal limbo since its passage. A federal judge in July 2010 put on hold several of the most controversial provisions, including one that allows local and state police to check a person's legal status during a lawful stop if the officers have reason to believe that individual is in the country without authorization.

Cristina Sanidad, who was at the rally, has no doubt that giving that kind of power to police could result in racial profiling of Latinos. “I'm not even Hispanic, but I could easily be mistaken for an undocumented person,” she says. “The law could easily be misused because it's so loosely defined."

Arizona is home to about 360,000 illegal immigrants, according to recent Department of Homeland Security estimates.

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