Supreme Court strikes down most of Arizona immigration law

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona’s immigration law today, but permitted one of the key parts to stand in a split decision.

The court declared that Arizona overstepped its authority by creating state crimes targeting undocumented people.

One of those provisions in the Arizona law made it a state crime for undocumented people who fail to carry registration papers, and another made it a state crime to solicit work. The third part of the law struck down allowed state and local police to arrest immigrants without a warrant in some cases.

The Court permitted a key part of the law to stand. The provision requires state and local police to check the immigration status of people they’ve stopped or detained if a “reasonable suspicion” exists that they’re in the country illegally.

But the High Court indicated that even that remaining section could face further legal action.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate most portions of Arizona’s SB 1070 is an important victory for fair-minded Americans,” said Javier Morillo, president of Minesota’s Service Employees International Union, Local 26. “Although the most odious part of the law, ‘the show me your papers’ provision, was not enjoined, we take heart in the reaffirmation by the Court that we cannot have a patchwork of 50 different state immigration laws.

“To any politician who supports laws like SB 1070, we say this: We will remain vigilant, we will be in the streets protesting and we will be at the ballot box voting.”

On perhaps one of the most important issues at stake the court agreed that only the federal government should regulate immigration. The court also left open future challenges, which unions and immigrant rights groups – in other lawsuits against SB 1070 – are pursuing.

SEIU’s Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina declared, “Today, the Supreme Court agreed with us that only the Federal government can regulate immigration but let stand the most egregious section of the law. We will mobilize so that such discriminatory laws never again make it onto the books in any state of the union.”

Georgetown Law professor David Cole, a vocal civil liberties advocate, had a positive reaction to the decision and said it validated recent moves on immigration reform by the Obama administration.

He called the decision “almost a total victory for the Obama administration,” which had challenged the constitutionality of the Arizona law.

He said the decision signals that Obama’s recent immigration directive, halting deportations for many young undocumented immigrants, was legal. The court underscored, he said, that the federal government has broad discretion under the law to decide who to deport.

The judges ruled, in part: “Congress has specified which aliens [his words] may be removed from the U.S., and the procedures for doing so. Aliens may be removed is they were inadmissible at the time of entry, have been convicted of certain crimes, or meet other criteria set by federal law. Removal is a civil, not criminal matter. A principle feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.

“Discretion in the enforcement of immigration law embraces immediate human concerns. Unauthorized workers trying to support their families, for example, likely pose less danger than alien smugglers who commit a serious crime. The equities of an individual case may turn on many factors, including whether the alien has children born in the U.S., long ties to the community, or a record of distinguished military service.”

Kris Korbaci, an immigration advisor to Mitt Romney, said that the Obama order was illegal, an apparent disagreement with the Supreme Court ruling.

Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion upheld the entire Arizona law. In a lengthy part of his dissent argument, Scalia too blasted the Obama order.

Photo: Supporters of immigrant rights rally at the Supreme Court in Washington.   Charles Dharapak/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.