On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down three key portions of a polarizing Arizona immigration law, but upheld the most controversial part of the bill requiring law enforcement to check the legal status of individuals suspected of being in the country illegally.
Within minutes of Monday's announcement, both proponents and opponents of the Arizona law known as SB 1070 claimed the court's ruling represents a clear victory for their cause. Those who crafted SB 1070 and those who support it across the country said the court's decision affirmed the right of states to create laws that support local sensibilities and address regional concerns. And those who oppose it insist that the court affirmed the absolute authority of the federal government to make immigration-related laws and created a clear path to challenge SB 1070's one standing provision.
But in Arizona, those who reside without legal authorization, those who work most closely with the undocumented, and citizens who are Latino say that the "show your papers provision" represents the most onerous section of the law. They argue that the court's decision leaves some people –- including U.S. citizens who happen to have the hair, eye and skin colors most often associated with the appearance of undocumented immigrants -- open to legalized police harassment and intimidation.
"The biggest concerns for families and residents of Arizona, when you talk to them, is being asked for their papers," said Arturo Carmona, president of Presente.Org, a California-based Latino advocacy group with operations in Arizona. "Of the provisions of SB 1070, this part of the law is the most visible, it's certainly the most egregious, and it has the most direct contact with families and communities on the ground."
When SB 1070 went to the Supreme Court in April, Petra Falcón, a fourth generation Mexican-American living in Arizona, joined a group of people deeply opposed to the law in a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week vigil on the Senate lawn at the Arizona State Capitol. At points as many as 100 members of the group have camped or stood outside of the state's capitol building. At others, the vigil dwindled to as few as 10. Now that the court announced a decision, Falcón says some people are still afraid.
"Anybody of color would be subject to increased profiling under the law, and I just think that's unjust," Falcón said. "For myself, for my children, and my grandchildren, I'm worried. We would all be put in category this together."
On Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, declared the Supreme Court's decision a victory for "law and order," and an affirmation that Arizona has the authority to help identify and remove undocumented immigrants from the state.
"After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution," Brewer said in a statement issued Monday.
And while Brewer declared a win, so too did people deeply opposed to SB 1070. The court struck down parts of the bill including language that would have criminalized the act of an immigrant moving around the state without paperwork proving that they are lawfully present, and provisions that rendered the act of seeking or holding a job if unauthorized to live in the United States a state crime. The court also overturned a section of SB 1070 that would have allowed police to make warrantless arrests.
David Leopold, an immigration lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, noted that while both sides are claiming victory, the decision deals a blow now -- and potentially, later -- to SB 1070 supporters.
"Everybody is spinning it as a victory, but in private Jan Brewer and her ilk have got to be licking their wounds," said Leopold, a HuffPost blogger. "The court said most of this is utterly unconstitutional. And on the one provision left standing, gave the state a very narrow ruling. ... What the court is saying it's premature."
DeeDee Garcia Blasé, a Mexican-American Arizona-based immigration activist and co-founder of the Tequila Party, denounced her ties to the GOP last year because of its support for policies such as SB 1070.
"We think this is an overall victory," said Blasé, who is also a HuffPost blogger. "We won three out of the four issues. The court very clearly said that the state overstepped its authority and they may have said the same on the fourth issue if they had more information. The bottom line is, Arizona kept the shell but lost the teeth of SB 1070 today."
The Justice Department challenged SB 1070 on relatively narrow legal grounds: the idea that the federal government has almost absolute authority to craft and enforce the nation's immigration law, said Dan Pochada, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. The ACLU was part of a coalition of civil rights groups and other organizations that filed suit attempting to block the law before it went into effect in 2010. The Justice Department later intervened.
Federal authorities did not raise questions before the Supreme Court about the possibility that the law will inspire racial profiling or lead people who come in contact with police for the most basic and perfunctory reasons to be held in police custody for lengthy and undefined periods of time. Both are prohibited by the Constitution, Pochada said.
"We would anticipate bringing a challenge on one or perhaps both of these issues within weeks if not months," Pochada said. "The court virtually pointed to this door and left it wide open."
The idea that the federal government has almost sole authority to make and enforce immigration law has guided court decisions since the Civil War, said Gary Gerstle, a Vanderbilt University historian who specializes in immigration and related policy.
Before the Civil War, a small number of mostly East Coast port cities and states created laws that restricted the ability of shipping companies to transport and unload paupers unable to support themselves or individuals carrying diseases. There have not been state-level attempts to enforce immigration law since, Gerstle said.
"I think what we have to watch closely now is the copy cat laws, the efforts in states like Alabama and to a lesser extent in Arizona, to basically visit social death on the undocumented," he said.
Falcón, an Arizona resident and outspoken SB 1070 opponent, worries that she and her children will now be targets for police stops, inquiries and even arrests, she said.
"Our immigrant families are relieved, in part," Falcón said, "but they know it's not over."
TIMELINE: Arizona Immigration Law SB1070
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