UNITED STATES: U.S. top court ruling on Arizona law fans U.S. immigration flames

26 Jun

Source: The Globe and Mail

Sadly this will do nothing to rid Arizona of its plethora of illegal immigrants, however, it does allow one important law to remain.

A Southern Arizona rancher, stands at the border wall with Mexico on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010 in Hereford, Ariz. He was attending the United Border Coalition Tea Party Rally in support of Arizona's immigration law, SB1070 with conservative tea party activists along a remote stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border about 113 kilometers west of Nogales.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to let Arizona proceed with one part of its controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants promises to further inflame American politics as the presidential election race enters the critical summer campaign season.

While the top court struck down most of the Arizona law – cementing overall federal authority over immigration – its Monday ruling left intact one provision that requires state police to check the citizenship status of people they arrest if they suspect them of being in the country illegally.

While President Barack Obama expressed his “concern” about that provision, the ruling could buttress his re-election chances by further putting the country’s 21 million eligible Hispanic voters beyond the reach of his Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

That is because the provision left standing is arguably the most controversial aspect of the law. Mr. Obama, Hispanic leaders and civil-rights advocates have all argued that it will lead to racial profiling of Latinos. Mr. Romney and Republicans have supported it.

Rather than defusing the issue, the court’s ruling ensures that one of the country’s most emotionally charged political debates will live on in state legislatures and Congress. Each party will use the ruling to mobilize its base of supporters for the November election.

Though he had tempered his language somewhat in recent days, Mr. Romney has taken an uncompromising position toward undocumented immigrants and voiced support for Arizona’s efforts to crack down on them. He largely reiterated that stand on Monday.

“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,” Mr. Romney said in a statement.

The immigration issue illustrates the “tightrope” Mr. Romney must walk during an election campaign in which the matter is set to figure more prominently than most analysts had expected.

The GOP nominee needs to ensure a high turnout in November among core Republicans. They have championed the Arizona law as a model for other states and could waver in their support for Mr. Romney if he appears to soften his stand on illegal immigration.

At the same time, Mr. Romney needs to court a chunk of the electorate – Hispanics – that will be pivotal to determining the outcome of the election in several key swing states. Polls show him trailing Mr. Obama by more than 40 percentage points among Latino voters and his statement on Monday will do little to change that.

“Mr. Romney has to improve his standing among Latinos,” noted Karthick Ramakrishnan, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington. “On the other hand, Republican Party activists care intensely about [illegal] immigration.”

The Obama administration signalled on Monday that federal immigration authorities will not automatically move to deport undocumented immigrants that are identified by police in Arizona, saying it has its own “priorities” when it comes to enforcing the law.

Coupled with Mr. Obama’s recent move to halt deportations of young adults who were brought to the country illegally as children, the announcement suggests there will now be even less co-operation between the federal government and Republican-led states on immigration matters.

Both parties in Congress agree it would be impossible, if not inhumane, to deport all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

But they are more divided than ever over how to address the problem. Republicans insist tougher border security must precede any effort to provide a path to citizenship for even carefully selected groups of illegal immigrants, such as students.

Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature cited the stalemate in Washington as its justification for passing its unprecedented law, which was prevented from taking effect by a lower-court injunction in 2010.

On Monday, Arizona’s GOP Governor Jan Brewer called the Supreme Court ruling a “victory for the rule of law” and “all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens.”

In reality, the court gutted almost the entire Arizona law. It struck down a provision that makes it a state crime, in addition to a federal one, to be in the country illegally; it invalidated another section of the law making it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek work in Arizona; and it nullified a section that empowers state police to arrest someone without a warrant if they have “probable cause” that person is an illegal immigrant.

“Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “But the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

The top court decided that it was premature to rule on the “show me your papers” provision of the law, ruling that “without the benefit of a definitive interpretation from the state courts, it would be inappropriate to assume [the provision] will be construed in a way that creates a conflict with federal law.”

Overall, the ruling is a victory for the Obama administration and will effectively invalidate laws recently passed in other states that mimic the Arizona legislation. The primacy of the U.S. federal government in immigration matters is affirmed.

What’s more, the provision left standing will be now subject to legal challenges that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s “equal protection” clause, which prohibits discrimination based on race.

Still, the 5-to-3 ruling underscored the bitter ideological rift between some members of the top court. In signalling his dissent with the majority that voted to strike down most of the Arizona law, Justice Antonin Scalia took a direct swipe at Mr. Obama.

“To say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal law that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind,” he wrote.

That ideological divide is likely to be even more apparent on Thursday, when the court is set to release its ruling on the constitutionality of Mr. Obama’s health-care law – further stirring the political pot in an election year.

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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in United States


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