Jewish groups: Court ruling against Arizona immigration law to have ‘mixed outcome’

HIAS welcomes court decision, but warns: We remain extremely concerned about the potential for racial profiling as a result of today’s decision.

By . Cross-posted from Ha’aretz

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday striking down most of a controversial 2010  Arizona immigration law that raised concerns over racial profiling and sparked protests in different states – including initiatives to boycott the state – is considered to be a partial victory for the Obama administration that challenged it in court.

Jewish organizations welcomed the ruling, but warned that there were still challenges to be met.

In a 5-3 ruling, the majority opinion stated that the federal government “has significant power to regulate immigration,” adding that while “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”

Judges rejected the sections authorizing the police to arrest illegal immigrants without warrant in cases where “probable cause” that they violated the law is established, as well as, the section requiring immigrants to carry documents, and that which forbids illegal immigrants from seeking employment in Arizona.

However, though the court decided to strike down three of the law’s four provisions, it left the fourth one standing. This section allows police officers to check a suspect stopped by the law enforcement officers for other violations, his immigration status – if there is “reasonable suspicion” that he is an undocumented immigrant. This part of the decision made Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a law proponent, to proclaim the “heart” of the law remained intact, and it’s a “victory for all Americans”.

President Barack Obama, who recently increased his outreach to the Latino immigrants community – including the  decision to halt deportations of the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors – said in  a statement that while he is pleased with the ruling.

“What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform.  A patchwork  of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem”. Obama added that he remains concerned “about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like…. We must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the Court’s decision recognizes. “

In a minority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “To say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.”

HIAS, the global migration agency of the American Jewish community, welcomed the Supreme Court’s striking of three challenged provisions, but the organization’s President Mark Hetfield, “we remain extremely concerned about the potential for racial profiling as a result of today’s decision. HIAS once again calls upon Congress to move forward with just and humane immigration reform. We will continue to seek opportunities to build relationships among law enforcement, immigrant communities, and business, community, labor, and faith leaders to get Congress to fix our broken immigration laws, reinstate the rule of law along the border, and regularize the status of the undocumented immigrants among us who want to come out of the shadows to work legally, support their families, and contribute to our communities.”

(In 2010, after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill into law, HIAS coordinated a letter to Congress that was signed by more than 65 Jewish organizations and public figures, condemning the legislation and urging Congress to move forward with federal immigration reform).

Some members of the Jewish community in Arizona spoke to “Haaretz” last year about the dilemma of dealing with illegal immigration – but also feeling uncomfortable with the law – and echoed the sentiments of the letter that stated that “throughout history, members of the Jewish community have been considered strangers and outsiders in their communities, and we know too well the pain of living in fear.”

Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, Robert Sugarman, and Abraham Foxman, said in a statement that “the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s harsh immigration is a mixed outcome, bearing both good and bad news and highlighting the need for comprehensive and meaningful immigration reform. We are deeply troubled that Section 2(B) was not struck down.  One of our primary concerns has been that Arizona’s law would exacerbate fear in immigrant communities and, in particular, make victims and witnesses of hate crimes reluctant to speak with police.  Even though the Arizona Attorney General has said that local police will not engage in racial profiling, giving local police the responsibility of checking immigration status will undermine the essential trust between residents and law enforcement, leave local police in an untenable position, and continue to create barriers to effective protection of minority communities.”