TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona's police chiefs and county sheriffs hoped a U.S. Supreme Court ruling would settle their long-running debate on what role, if any, they should play in immigration enforcement. Instead, the justices' decision to uphold the state's "show me your papers" statute has left them with more questions than answers.

How long must officers wait for federal authorities to respond when they encounter someone undocumented, especially given President Barack Obama's new policy to only deport dangerous criminals and repeat offenders? If they release a person too soon, are they exposing themselves to a lawsuit from residents who accuse them of failing to enforce the law?

How do they avoid being sued for racial profiling? Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he anticipated no change in how he does his job but that comes from someone who was accused of racially profiling Latinos in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department.

"We're going to get sued if we do. We're going to get sued if we don't. That's a terrible position to put law enforcement officers in," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose territory covers much of southern Arizona and who has long argued against his state's requirement that local law enforcement be forced to ask about the legal status of anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

The justices on Monday unanimously approved the Arizona law's most-discussed provision requiring police to check the immigration status of those they stop for other reasons. But it struck down provisions allowing local police to arrest people for federal immigration violations. They also warned against detaining people for any prolonged period merely for not having proper immigration papers.

The decision left police chiefs and sheriffs grappling with questions ranging from what justifies reasonable suspicion that someone is in the country illegally to how long officers must wait when federal authorities are slow to respond to a question on someone's immigration status.

"It's uncharted territory," said Tony Estrada, sheriff of Santa Cruz County on the state's southern border with Mexico. "It's going to be challenging. It's a complicated issue, and it's not going to be solved by this particular decision."

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor estimates the statute will result in 50,000 additional calls a year to federal immigration authorities in his city alone. That includes 36,000 arrests a year for suspects who are not booked into jail, typically for offenses like disorderly conduct, misdemeanor assault, shoplifting, vandalism and driving more than 25 mph over the speed limit.

Those suspects, who would normally be released with a citation, must be booked into custody if immigration authorities "don't answer the phone, they never call us back after we talk to them or whatever," Villasenor said.

An estimated 14,000 inquiries a year will be for people encountered on street patrol who are not arrested, Villasenor said. They may raise suspicion for their manner of dress, language or other characteristics outlined in guidelines issues to law enforcement agencies statewide.

"I'm not sure (the federal government is) set up to accommodate that workload right now. I hope I'm wrong," said Villasenor, who joined Dupnik and other law enforcement in voicing opposition to the 2010 law in a filing to the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged concern about a flood of inquiries but signaled it would only deport people who meet its enforcement priorities. Those priorities are repeat immigration violators, people who pose a public safety or national security threat and recent border crossers.

"The Supreme Court's decision raises the possibility of a significant increase in the number of inquiries, referrals and status verification inquiries from Arizona state authorities that will impact DHS's immigration enforcement operations," the department said Monday in a note to field offices.

Arpaio, the controversial Phoenix lawman known for his anti-immigration raids, said he was concerned whether federal agents will decline to pick up some undocumented immigrants who are stopped by his deputies.

"I have my suspicions," he said.

Arpaio asked a federal judge earlier this month to dismiss a lawsuit that claims his office discriminated against Latinos in the sheriff's trademark immigration patrols and had a culture of disregard for basic constitutional rights.

Hours after Monday's ruling, the Department of Homeland Security canceled agreements with seven Arizona police departments that deputized officers to arrest people on immigration violations while on street patrol.

Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia declined to detail how the statute will play out but anticipates it won't be much of a departure from what officers already do.

"It's much too early to try to speculate on these issues of law," he said.

If federal agents decline to pick up immigrants, the state doesn't have any way to force federal authorities to pick them up and will likely have to let them go unless they're suspected of committing a crime that would require them to be brought to jail, said Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor who specializes in immigration law.

In that sense, the law is symbolic, Spiro said. The questioning requirement "is useful to the extent that it allows states to give notice of hostilities to undocumented immigrants," Spiro said. "It allows for a formal expression of the state's hostilities toward undocumented immigrants."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the decision a victory for all Americans, but said she expected lawsuits to challenge the implementation of the law.

"It's certainly not the end of our journey," she said.

Responding to criticism that the law would lead to racial profiling, Brewer said that any officer who violates a person's civil rights will be held accountable. Even while upholding the provision, the justices said the status check could be challenged.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a written statement that the Supreme Court's ruling will make her agency's work more challenging, but she was pleased that the court ruled state laws can't dictate the federal government's immigration enforcement priorities.

Immigration rights groups said they were surprised and disappointed by the court's decision, and planned to ask the lower courts to block the law.

"The opinion invites the challenges that we are bringing. It's going to cause racial profiling. It will cause prolonged detentions," said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center, one of the groups pushing a separate challenge to the law.

Arizona passed the law in 2010, with lawmakers arguing that that federal government wasn't adequately preventing illegal immigration. The Obama administration sued to block it, saying that enforcing immigration laws was a federal responsibility.


Associated Press writers Jacques Billeaud, Terry Tang and Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix contributed to this report.

TIMELINE: Arizona Immigration Law SB1070
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  • Russell Pearce Introduces SB1070

    Former Republican Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce was the architect of original SB1070 bill. He led the effort in the Arizona legislature to get the state's immigration law passed. After it passed in 2010, he became president of the state Senate. But last year, Pearce was ousted from public office<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/08/russell-pearce-recall-election-jerry-lewis_n_1083129.html" target="_hplink"> in a special recall election. </a>

  • Protests Begin

    An amended version of SB 1070 passes the Arizona House and the Senate gives final approval to the new version <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/2012/04/18/20120418senate-bill-1070-timeline-supreme-court-prog.html?page=17" target="_hplink">with a vote of 17-11</a>. The bill heads to Gov. Jan Brewer's office. Protests between supporters and opponents escalate at the Arizona Capitol.

  • SB1070 Gets Signed Into Law

    Gov. Jan Brewer signs Senate Bill 1070 into law on April 23, 2010.

  • Lawsuits

    On April 2010, <a href="http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/state/timeline-story-of-controversial-sb-1070" target="_hplink">10 individuals and 14 labor, religious, and civil rights organizations,</a> filed the first civil-right lawsuits. They claimed it hinders police investigations in areas with a high population of Hispanics and that it <a href="http://voxxi.com/timeline-a-look-back-at-arizonas-immigration-law/" target="_hplink">violates federal law by requiring police officers to practice federal immigration duties.</a>

  • 2010 Countrywide Protests

    Fher Castillio joins other demonstrators as they wait to begin a march through downtown to protest Arizona's controversial immigration law SB1070 on May 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. Demonstrations took place in over 70 cities across the country. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • U.S. Department Of Justice Challenges SB1070

    On July 6th, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Arizona's SB 1070 in federal court, citing that the law <a href="http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/July/10-opa-776.html" target="_hplink">unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government's authority to set and enforce immigration policy,</a> according to a press release by the Department of Justice. The suit was filed on behalf of the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State, saying that having enacted its own immigration policy that conflicts with federal immigration law, Arizona <a href="http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/July/10-opa-776.html" target="_hplink">"crossed a constitutional line." </a>

  • Judge Susan Bolton Issues Temporary Injuction

    On July 28th, 2010, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton--who was appointed to the federal bench in 2000 by President Bill Clinton-- issued a ruling on Justice Department suit, <a href="http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/state/timeline-story-of-controversial-sb-1070" target="_hplink">which blocked some of the law's most controversial provisions. </a> Governor Jan Brewer's office <a href="http://voxxi.com/timeline-a-look-back-at-arizonas-immigration-law/" target="_hplink">appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that same day. </a> On July 29, 2010, the portions of the law not blocked by Bolton's ruling go into effect in Arizona.

  • Law Goes Into Effect- Protestors Arrests

    Thousand of people fled to the streets on July 29th, 2010 to protest against SB1070 going into effect. Maricopa County sheriff's deputies arrested people demonstrating in front of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office during the protest. At least 50 people were taken into police custody, including <a href="http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/07/arpaio_arrests_dozens_in_sb_1070_protests.html" target="_hplink">several journalists covering the story and at least one formerly elected official.</a>

  • Arizona Files Countersuit

    Arizona <a href="http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/state/timeline-story-of-controversial-sb-1070" target="_hplink">files countersuit against Justice Department</a>, accusing the federal government of failing to secure the border.

  • Court Of Appeals Uphold Bolton's Injuction

    In April 11, 2011 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Bolton's preliminary injunction, halting key provisions from going effect. Brewer hires Washington, D.C., attorney Paul Clement to argue SB 1070 for Arizona before the Supreme Court.

  • Russell Pearce Testifies

    On April 24, 2012, a day before the Supreme Court oral arguments, Sen. Russell Pearce testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the Senate Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee hearing entitled "Examining the Constitutionality and Prudence of State and Local Governments Enforcing Immigration Law." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • U.S. Supreme Court

    On April 25th, 2012 oral arguments in favor and against SB 1070 take place before the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • In Support Of SB1070

    A man holds a placard in support of Arizona's SB1070 law in front of the Supreme Court April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. Supporters of both sides of the immigration battle, demonstrated Wednesday as the court reviewed the 2010 law passed in the southwestern state, which would allow police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand proof of citizenship without probable cause. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Against SB1070

    A woman holds a Christian icon as she demonstrates against Arizona's SB1070 law in front of the Supreme Court April 25, 2012 in Washington, DC. In an argument to be put before the top US court, Mexico said the controversial law 'poses an imminent threat to Mexico-US bilateral relations.' AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

And, some reactions on Twitter:
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  • Eva Longoria

  • Arianna Huffington

  • ACLU Live

  • Wilmer Valderrama

  • Janet Murguía

  • Viviana Hurtado

  • Maria Elena Salinas

  • Jose Antonio Vargas


  • Luis V. Gutierrez