PHOENIX (AP) – For all the declarations of victory, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to preserve the “show me your papers” provision in Arizona’s immigration law means the state can enforce the statute only with the help of its chief critic: the federal government.
The court’s decision Monday struck down parts of the law, but preserved one that requires local police to check the immigration status of people stopped for various reasons and whom officers believe are in the country illegally.
There was a catch, however. The court decided that officers cannot detain anyone on an immigration violation. That is, unless federal immigration officials say so.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial lawman known for his anti-immigration raids, said he was concerned whether federal agents will decline to pick up some illegal immigrants who are stopped by his deputies.
“I have my suspicions,” he said.
Hours after the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security canceled agreements with seven Arizona police departments that deputized officers to arrest people on immigration violations while on street patrol.
Federal immigration officers will help, but only if doing so conforms to the department’s priorities, including catching repeat violators and identifying and removing those who threaten public safety and national security, the department said.
If federal agents decline to pick up immigrants, the state doesn’t have any way to force federal authorities to pick them up and will likely have to let them go unless they’re suspected of committing a crime that would require them to be brought to jail, said Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor who specializes in immigration law.
In that sense, the law is symbolic, Spiro said. “(The questioning requirement) is useful to the extent that it allows states to give notice of hostilities to undocumented immigrants,” Spiro said. “It allows for a formal expression of the state’s hostilities toward undocumented immigrants.”
Meanwhile, if local police get the chance to enforce the law and are not blocked by a federal injunction, they will be closely watched not just by immigrant rights advocates who are on the lookout for racial profiling.
They will also face scrutiny from residents who have been frustrated by and blamed the federal government for a porous border and can under the immigration law sue police departments that don’t follow the “show me your papers” provision.
A federal hotline was set up for the public to report potential civil rights concerns.
Immigrant rights advocates plan to launch a public relations campaign in hopes of quelling fears about the law and hold public meetings across the state to explain the law. A hotline run by a civil rights group will take questions about the law and document reports of abuses by police.
About 50 immigrant rights supporters rallied peacefully outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office near downtown Phoenix.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the decision a victory for all Americans, but said she expected lawsuits to challenge the implementation of the law.
“It’s certainly not the end of our journey,” she said.
And responding to criticism that the law would lead to racial profiling, Brewer said that any officer who violates a person’s civil rights will be held accountable. Even while upholding the provision, the justices said the status check could be challenged.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a written statement that the Supreme Court’s ruling will make her agency’s work more challenging, but she was pleased that the court ruled state laws can’t dictate the federal government’s immigration enforcement priorities.
Immigration rights groups said they were surprised and disappointed by the court’s decision, and planned to ask the lower courts to block the law.
“The opinion invites the challenges that we are bringing. It’s going to cause racial profiling. It will cause prolonged detentions,” said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center, one of the groups pushing a separate challenge to the law.
Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, who helped draft the law and has advised officials in other states wanting to crack down on illegal immigration, called the ruling “a big victory for Arizona” while acknowledging that “it’s not a complete victory.”
The ruling gives states “a green light” to enact “check your papers” laws, as well as other initiatives, such as requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify database to check the status of new workers, said Kobach, a Republican who is the Kansas secretary of state.
Arizona passed the law in 2010, with lawmakers arguing that that federal government wasn’t adequately preventing illegal immigration. The Obama administration sued to block it, saying that enforcing immigration laws was a federal responsibility.
Federal courts had refused to let the four key provisions take effect.
Five states _ Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah _ have adopted variations on Arizona’s law. Parts of those laws also are on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case.
Kobach said the decision was not a 100 percent victory for Arizona because “some of the less important provisions of the law were struck down.” He added: “The reason can be summed up in two words: Justice Kennedy.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court, a unanimous decision on allowing the status check to go forward. The court, however, was divided on striking down the other portions.
They were the sections that required all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers and allowed police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Arizona has spent almost $3 million defending the law for the last two years, the Arizona Republic reported Monday.
In the Phoenix area, some residents were pleased that most of the law was tossed out.
Audrey Pulido, who owns The Garage Bike Shop in the predominantly Hispanic town of Guadalupe, also said that it was unfair that police can check a person’s immigration status.
“Actually what you’re doing is you’re stereotyping a person,” said Pulido, whose husband was in the U.S. illegally before they were married. “It’s like judging a book before you even read it, just by what they are. They are human beings, first of all.”
Pulido said residents do not talk much about the law but that it has instilled fear in them and factors into how they plan their lives.
Pulido said a waitress in the restaurant next door asked her if she would sign a notarized document to care for her son if the woman got deported. “I would do it in a heartbeat,” she said. “I would not hesitate.
“You don’t get that all the time,” Pulido said. “They have to think that way _ `What’s going to happen to me?'”
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman in Washington; Terry Tang and Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix; and John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.