The U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of Arizona's immigration law on Monday, but let its most controversial provision stand. The ruling affirms the supremacy of federal law over state regulations governing immigration -- a triumph for the Obama administration. The court's approval of the so-called "show me your papers" provision of those laws, however, makes the victory incomplete. Those who favor harsher laws governing illegal immigrants view that approval as vindication of their stance. A more definitive ruling will be necessary to fully resolve the issue.
Monday's ruling gives each side in the immigration debate something for each side to celebrate. The administration clearly would have preferred an across-the-board ruling that invalidated each of the four major points in the Arizona regulations. It did not get it.
Administration opponents certainly don't like the high court's ruling, but they are still claiming victory because the court let stand what they view as the key component of the Arizona regulations. The provision unanimously upheld by the justices requires police to check the immigration status of someone they stop for another reason and who they suspect is in the country illegally. The so-called victory for hard-liners on immigration is at best a tenuous one.
The justices did not rule that the "show me your papers" rule was constitutional. That's an open invitation for challenges to the regulations. Those challenges should and will come. There's sound reason to challenge the law upheld by the justices. It is an open invitation to racial profiling.
Racial profiling is offensive and unjust. Moreover, a law that requires the police to check the immigration status of any person they stop for another offense if they have a suspicion that the person might be an illegal immigrant is ripe for abuse.
Those most likely to be stopped in that circumstance are individuals who fit a predetermined stereotype. In Arizona, a state with an admittedly major illegal immigrant problem, that stereotype likely would mean Hispanics, whose language, accent or skin color would make them likely targets of overzealous law- enforcement officials. Neither skin color nor language, of course, is a sign of immigration status or illegal activity. Anything that suggests so is simply wrong.
The justices struck down Arizona laws that required all immigrants to have and to carry registration papers, that made it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and that allowed police to arrest suspected illegal immigrant without warrants. Those decisions affirm the administration's belief that the federal not state government has the mandate to superintend ,immigration.
The court's mixed ruling, though, leaves wiggle room for states to act on their own in some ways when it comes to immigration. That's disruptive to national interests. What's needed is comprehensive immigration reform. That's a job for Congress, but that body -- riven by partisanship and focused on November elections -- is unlikely to address the issue anytime soon.