Arizona’s Latino and civil-rights leaders had long planned to gather Monday on the lawn of the Arizona capitol in Phoenix to protest Mitt Romney’s closed-to-the-press fundraiser in nearby Scottsdale. The capitol gathering had been promoted by the Obama campaign, which called Romney an immigration extremist who sees Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, as a “model.”
Then, in what seemed like perfect timing, the U.S. Supreme Court made public its decision to strike down three provisions of the law. The court let stand the section that permits Arizona police officers to question the immigration status of those they stop, detain, or arrest if there is reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
The Obama administration reacted swiftly, rescinding its 287(g) agreements with seven Arizona police departments, which gave local and state police permission to partner with the federal government on immigration enforcement. The administration also directed federal immigration officials not to respond to local traffic stops or law-enforcement encounters in Arizona unless the detained person is a recent border crosser, has already been removed from the country and reentered the United States unlawfully, or is a convicted criminal. (Federal immigration officials will still respond to telephone calls from Arizona law-enforcement authorities seeking the immigration status of a person who is legally stopped, detained, or arrested.)
“As though we needed any more evidence, President Obama has demonstrated anew his utter disregard for the safety and security of the Arizona people,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement of the administration’s decision to revoke 287(g) agreements. She later added on CNN: “The people of America ought to be outraged. This is absolutely an assault.”
President Obama, who has presided over record deportations and net zero migration from Mexico, claimed partial victory in the Supreme Court decision but warned against potential civil-rights abuses. He said he would work for comprehensive immigration reform. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, said in a short statement that the president has failed to lead on immigration.
In Phoenix after the court’s announcement, migrants sat near a Virgin of Guadalupe painting on the capitol lawn, near flag-waving oldsters in yellow “Viva la SB 1070” shirts, college students dressed in “Adios Arpaio” shirts, elected immigration hardliners, Democrats who had opposed the law, union representatives, and Latino leaders.
Arizona immigration hawks heralded the court’s decision as a victory, while local Democrats called for beefed-up voter registration and hinted at the dire effect of a possible Latino exodus on the tax base. Latino leaders expressed mixed emotions about the court’s ruling as they stood in the ovenlike sun, saying they thought enforcement of the law would cause civil-rights abuses but that they were thankful the court didn’t enact the other three provisions. Inside the capitol complex, Brewer, who signed the law in 2010, called the court’s decision a “victory” because “the heart of SB 1070 has been proven constitutional.”
“If they think this is the heart, the law will soon need a heart transplant,” said Randy Parraz, the Latino leader who was key in the recall-election defeat of state Sen. Russell Pearce, the law’s sponsor.
Parraz said the law had an unintended silver lining, galvanizing the Latino electorate into action. And while Arizona has “SB 1070 fatigue,” he said, the Latino electorate has “no fatigue for justice.” He predicted the downfall of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other hardliners in the 2012 election. (Arpaio, who has attracted nationwide attention for his raids on Latino workplaces and neighborhoods, has said SB 1070 would not affect how he does business. He arrests migrants for violating other Arizona laws, such as the human smuggling law, which makes it a crime for an immigrant to smuggle himself through Arizona, among other things.)
Standing in the shade of a skinny palm tree, state Rep. John Kavanagh, a former New Jersey policeman who retired in Arizona and is one of the chief promoters of SB 1070, said it was “unfortunate” but “not fatal to the law” that the court had struck down three provisions of SB 1070. (Those provisions include criminalizing an undocumented immigrant for working in Arizona, allowing cops to arrest a person without a warrant if they believe he or she is an undocumented immigrant, and requiring immigrants to “register” with the government.) Kavanagh said the heart of the law still stood and would be implemented soon.
The high court was ruling Monday on an Obama administration lawsuit seeking to overturn SB 1070, largely on grounds that the federal government, not the states, has the constitutional responsibility to enforce immigration.
While the court’s decision allows Arizona police to check on the immigration status of those they stop, detain, or arrest if there is reasonable suspicion they are in the country illegally, Arizona can’t force the federal government to deport anyone.
The Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security, led by former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, has the say over who gets deported. In that regard, immigration enforcement still rests solidly in the hands of the federal government. And the government has said it wants to focus on deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes or threaten the nation’s safety. “ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] will not issue detainers unless they meet priorities,” a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security told the Arizona Republic on Monday.
“I’m upset,” said Alison Culver, a truck driver carrying a large American flag at the Arizona Capitol, “because [the decision] allows illegals to stay. They don’t have rights. Illegal is illegal, period.” Culver said she became an activist after her elderly, disabled mother was denied food stamps that Culver believed were handed out readly to unauthorized immigrants.
As Culver endured the Phoenix heat, Romney raised $2 million at his Scottsdale fundraiser, his campaign said. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has vowed to “veto” the DREAM Act, said unauthorized immigrants should self-deport and embraced the endorsement of SB 1070’s author, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has struggled for the support of Latino voters. With Latinos voicing their approval of Obama’s recent administrative order granting some young undocumented immigrants renewable two-year permissions to stay and work in the country, however, Romney has appeared to back away from his hardline immigration stance. On Monday in Scottsdale, he told donors that he had hoped the court would give states more enforcement power, according to the Associated Press.