By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — On a clear morning on the last Monday in June a squadron of broadcast and print journalists came together in northeast Portland to learn details about an opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States released a few hours earlier in Washington, D.C. The subject: four sections of S.B. 1070 — Arizona’s controversial attempt to set up its own backyard immigration system.
Eight members of various Northwest civil rights and immigrant support groups gathered in Causa’s Portland offices on Northeast Broadway, awaiting their turns to deliver their insights.
Summing up the situation in colorful terms, ACLU of Oregon’s Executive Director David Fidanque said, “Arizona wanted a green light on state enforcement of federal immigration law and today the U. S. Supreme Court delivered a solid red light on three of the four provisions and a blinking red light on the fourth.”
Campaigning in New Hampshire, President Barack Obama endorsed the court’s decision. “No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Obama stated.
In Phoenix, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer claimed the court had provided a victory for backers of the law that gave broad powers to police officers. Brewer, who signed S.B. 1070 into law two years ago, called the court’s decision “a victory for all Americans.”
How could the court ruling be a win for both sides?
Of the four sections of S.B. 1070 under review, the court said that three conflicted with federal laws. Federal laws take precedence when federal and state laws conflict. Moreover, under current federal laws, the Department of Homeland Security is charged with monitoring immigration, therefore individual states cannot draft their own immigration laws.
The court declined to act either way on Arizona’s current policy that allows police to stop anyone they think looks like an undocumented immigrant. According to Becky Straus, legislative director of ACLU of Oregon, the court sent that Section 2(B) back to the Ninth Circuit Court for more work.
That left people in — or passing through — Arizona who “look like they might be illegal aliens” still fair game for police officers in the Grand Canyon State.
Opponents consider Section 2(B) an open invitation for ethnic profiling. Many observers think the Ninth Circuit Court will overturn it because of its power to invitation widespread abuse.
On the other hand, members of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) see the Supreme Court’s decision not to crush Section 2(B) a great success for reducing the number of immigrants.
In the meantime, the high court did knock down three sections of S.B. 1070.
Thus both sides could call the decision a partial win — or, for an optimistic viewer, “a victory.”
The rulings came with five judges voting to trim S.B. 1070 while three justices wanted to keep the law in its original form.
Justice Elena Kagan recused herself. Kagan, before her appointment to the bench, had served as Obama’s solicitor general. In that post she had filed a brief against S.B. 1070; Kagan has recused herself from almost half the cases since she was appointed to the court.
The Court’s view
After hearing the case two months ago, the Supreme Court issued a 76-page document offering the arguments of various judges.
The questions of constitutionality of S.B. 1070 arose when the Ninth Circuit Court took four sections of the law for consideration. The circuit court ruled against the four sections, and passed the question up to the Supreme Court.
Section 3 made failure to comply with federal alien-registration requirements a state misdemeanor. The new ruling says that the government cannot force people to carry immigration documents.
Section 5(C) made it a misdemeanor for an unauthorized alien to seek or engage in work in the state. The new ruling said that the law could not prevent non-citizens from working in the United States.
Section 6 authorized state and local officers to arrest a person without a warrant if “the officer has probable cause to believe [a person] has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.” The new ruling eliminates that bit of Napoleonic policy.
The Supreme Court allowed Section 2(B) to continue while the Ninth Circuit Court was giving it a closer look.
In the majority statement, the court noted, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for identifying, apprehending, and removing illegal aliens.”
Thus, the court reasoned, “The Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law.”
Consequently, any state law that contradicts a federal law is invalid.
Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor formed the majority, with Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in the minority. Kennedy wrote the majority report.
In short, the majority said no state can make it illegal to seek employment. Moreover, a state cannot require people to carry identity papers at all times. And, obviously, no state can have immigration laws that conflict with federal laws.
Three major national television news departments each devoted at least 10 minutes to the court decision, with ABC and NBC running it as their top story. Even humorist Jon Stewart opened “The Daily show” with 10 minutes of outtakes of TV talking heads tying themselves in contradictory knots.
Zeke Montes, president of the National Association of Hispanic Publishers (NAHP), noted, “Having three of four provisions struck down is no small victory, but we clearly have more work to do and one thing is certain: the national Hispanic community will be watching to see how Arizona law enforcement administers this law moving forward.”
Members of Causa Oregon, ACLU of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon, Oregon AFL-CIO, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Oregon New Sanctuary Movement, the Oregon State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, and other community organizations and leaders participated in the press conference held in Causa’s Portland office.
Causa Executive Director Francisco López said, “Oregon civil rights groups applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for its outright rejection of most of Arizona’s anti-immigration law. However, the court’s wait-and-see approach to the ‘Show Me Your Papers’ is a mistake that jeopardizes the rights of individuals around the country.”
David Leslie, executive director of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, expressed his concerns about immigrant families. “Until all part of the law [S.B. 1070] is struck down, we won’t have full justice.”
Oregon AFLCIO President Tom Chamberlain said, “Make no mistake about it, this is not a victory for those who want to restrict civil rights. This is not a victory for those who support racial profiling. This is not a victory for those who forget we’re a nation that was founded by immigrants.”
In a press release, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese said. “Our mission is to protect all people in our community and local enforcement of federal immigration laws can negatively impact our relationship with our community.”
Reese added, “We provide service to all who need our help and to ask about a person’s federal immigration status has the potential to keep victims of crime from coming forward and asking for police help.”
In another press release, Governor John Kitzhaber observed, “In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s immigration law, I want to reaffirm that I am 100 percent committed to creating an inclusive and welcoming Oregon, a state that values the skills and talents of our diverse population and precious human capital. If we are to build an enduring prosperity in Oregon, we must ensure all Oregonians have an equal opportunity to contribute.”
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