Opposing sides applaud Supreme Court immigration ruling

Opposing sides applaud Supreme Court immigration ruling

June 26th, 2012 by Perla Trevizo and Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Journalists wait outside the Supreme Court in Washington.

Journalists wait outside the Supreme Court in Washington.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you agree with the Supreme Court's immigration ruling?


For both states an appeal is pending in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Alabama (HB 56), includes three provisions similar to those considered in the Arizona case: police inquiries into immigration status; criminalizing being present in the state without immigration papers; and criminalizing soliciting work.

Several other provisions have no overlap with those considered in the Arizona case, including requiring inquiries into immigration status of students and their parents; criminalizing day laborer activities, helping undocumented immigrants, certain transactions with public officials by undocumented immigrants; and making many contracts unenforceable if they involve undocumented immigrants.

All these provisions have been blocked, except the requirement of police to inquire into immigration status.

Georgia's HB 87 includes one provision similar to those considered in the Arizona case: police inquiries into immigration status. It also criminalizes helping unauthorized immigrants, which has no overlap with the questions decided in the Arizona case. All these provisions were blocked by the district court.

Source: Southern Poverty Law Center

One ruling resulted in essentially the same reaction from two very different sides.

In Georgia and Alabama, two states with tough immigration laws, groups on both sides of the debate saw the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration enforcement law as a victory. One side deemed it as a clear message that it's the federal government's right to enforce immigration law, not the states', while the other took it as reassurance for the states.

Some state and federal officials were quick to praise the high court's decision to uphold the section of Arizona's law that allows local authorities to check the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally, what critics of the law call the "show me your papers" provision.

"While the Supreme Court did strike down parts of the law, they upheld the law's core provision," U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., wrote in an email. "The state of Arizona has to live with the consequences of illegal immigration daily, so I am not surprised that they saw the need for this action."

Georgia Attorney General Samuel Olens said in a news release that he was pleased the Supreme Court recognizes that states have an important role to play in upholding immigration law, but neither his office nor the attorney general's office in Alabama would comment in depth on how the ruling will affect the states' own immigration laws, citing pending lawsuits.

But some local authorities don't believe the ruling will have an effect on how police enforce illegal immigration. While the ruling sends a clear message to state legislators on what constitutes a constitutional violation, it doesn't hinder police in their day-to-day enforcement of immigration laws, said Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker.

"When police make a lawful arrest, regardless of whatever status, an officer can still require a person to show identification," he said.

Still, there are ongoing legal challenges to both Georgia and Alabama's immigration laws, and some provisions have been barred from taking effect. In Georgia, for instance, law enforcement is not required to check into a person's immigration status, while Alabama authorities are required to do so during a lawful stop. But all other provisions of Alabama's law have been temporarily halted by the courts.

Lawsuits against Georgia and Alabama's laws are in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments earlier this year, but no ruling was offered; the judge said he would wait for the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona.

Sam Brooke with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said he expects a decision from the 11th Circuit perhaps as early as this fall.

Advocates of the immigrant communities in both states said the effects already have been felt from the states' immigration laws. The possibility that Georgia law enforcement might be able to check immigration status frightens many immigrants in that state, community leaders said.

"The communities are going to be even more afraid now if this provision goes into effect," said America Gruner, founder of the Coalition of Latino Leaders in Dalton. "The likelihood of racial profiling is going to increase."

Gruner said many immigrants in the North Georgia area were waiting to see what the Supreme Court's ruling was before making a decision of whether to stay or leave.

In Alabama, Nayeli Rodriguez, who works in a Fort Payne grocery store that caters primarily to Hispanics, said a lot of people have left the state already.

"A lot of times people leave because they are afraid. They stopped going out unless it's for work or basic needs," said Rodriguez, a permanent resident who has lived in Alabama eight years.

But some argue that, even if the Supreme Court didn't strike down the "show us your papers" provision because it doesn't pre-empt federal law, the justices did caution that how it's enacted might lead to further legal challenges.

"If evidence arises that Arizona officers are picking out Hispanic-looking people to check their documents then they arrest them for some driving incident and they don't equally check people who don't look Hispanic, it can be wrongly discriminatory and lead to some kind of invalidation of the law," said Robert Divine, a local immigration attorney who also served as acting director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2005-06.

It could also be illegal if authorities are holding people longer because they are checking their immigration status, said Shay Farley, legal director at the Alabama Appleseed, an advocacy organization in the state.

"I'm not certain [Monday's] ruling says everything is fine for those provisions to stay in effect," she said. "It's a very rare thing for the court to almost leave this door open."

The big picture in this decision, said Divine, is that it makes it harder for states to trump the federal government's position on how to prioritize its resources on immigration reform.

"And it shifts the focus of the debate about comprehensive immigration reform back to U.S. Congress," where many, even the lawmakers who have proposed some of these laws, say is where immigration reform should happen.

Contact staff writer Perla Trevizo at ptrevizo@times freepress.com or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_Trevizo.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.