The nation's newspapers weighed in today on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down most of Arizona's immigration law while leaving one controversial provision intact but toothless.
Our editorial applauded the justices' clear message - that immigration policy is the domain of the federal government, not state government - but we believe it's far past time Congress and President Barack Obama move the country toward substantial immigration reform.
A sampling of editorial board opinions from across the country:
Los Angeles Times
SUPREME COURT’S IMMIGRATION REALITY CHECK
The Supreme Court made the right decision Monday when it struck down three of the central provisions in Arizona’s noxious immigration law as unconstitutional intrusions into the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate the issue. The 5-3 ruling helps reaffirm what should have long been clear to Arizona policymakers: that immigration cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state laws, each with its own view of who should be detained and deported and how.
Supporters of SB 1070 have spent two years arguing that it doesn’t conflict with but rather complements federal law. Yet even the conservative-dominated Supreme Court begs to differ. Consider that one of the provisions struck down called for granting state police greater authority to conduct warrantless arrests than even federal immigration agents currently enjoy. “The result would be unnecessary harassment of some aliens” who were not deportable, wrote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on behalf of the majority. “This is not the system Congress created.” Two other provisions made it a crime to fail to carry immigration papers or for an undocumented person to apply for a job, even though neither is a crime under federal immigration law.
It is troubling, however, that the court let stand a fourth controversial provision, the so-called show-your-papers rule, under which police are required to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest on a legitimate basis. Although the law includes language that supposedly prohibits police from stopping people based on race or national origin, the provision is problematic given Arizona’s history of harassing Latinos and given that the underlying goal of SB 1070 is “attrition through enforcement,” which effectively means making the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants so difficult that they flee the state.
That provision will now be sent back to a lower court, which will, we hope, strike it down, or at least set strict limits on how police may carry out such status checks. Clear guidelines are necessary to protect individuals against the kind of racial profiling already undertaken by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has often relied on flimsy traffic stops and anonymous tips to round up Latinos without regard to their immigration status or civil rights.
Monday’s ruling will surely allow Latinos in Arizona to breathe a bit easier, but it by no means ends the legal debate. Civil rights groups and advocates of immigrants’ rights have vowed to press forward in Arizona as well as other states with copycat laws on the books. Ultimately, the only certain way to halt such misguided efforts is for Congress to negotiate a rational, comprehensive approach to reforming the nation’s unworkable immigration system.
IMMIGRATION FIX NIXED
Mitt Romney once promised that on “day one” of his presidency, he’d drop the federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Arizona’s go-it-alone immigration law. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court pre-empted that pledge, striking down most of that law just as Romney prepared to attend a GOP fundraiser in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The timing was awkward, but the truth is that Romney would rather not talk about immigration now, period.
During the Republican primary debates, Romney positioned himself to the right of his rivals. He endorsed the attrition-through-enforcement strategy behind Arizona’s law, which essentially seeks to make life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport.”
Romney also said he’d veto the DREAM Act, a proposed law that would provide a path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants if they went to college or served in the military.
With the nomination in hand, Romney has largely steered clear of the immigration debate, aware of the growing political clout of Latino voters – who as of Monday favored President Barack Obama over Romney, 66 percent to 25 percent, according to a Gallup poll.
Romney would rather campaign on the economy, the topic of greatest concern to voters, including Hispanics.
But the Obama campaign has taken pains to remind voters that Romney “paraded around the country with the nation’s leading anti-immigration voices” – including Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who largely wrote it.
Last week, Obama scored big points with Latinos by announcing an administrative order that allows young undocumented immigrants to stay and apply for renewable two-year work permits if they finish school or join the military. It doesn’t provide a path to citizenship – only Congress can do that – but it was as close as the president could come to enacting the DREAM Act without help from Republicans.
Romney’s mumbled response to that action illustrated the corner he’d painted himself into: He called Obama’s plan a short-term fix but didn’t spell out a long-term solution of his own.
His earlier suggestion that states might handle immigration matters themselves was all but torpedoed by the Supreme Court. Half a dozen states had enacted laws patterned after Arizona’s, but the court said setting and enforcing immigration policy is the job of the federal government.
The justices said Arizona could require its police officers to question and briefly detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. But it can’t hold suspects on immigration charges without federal approval, and it can’t make it a state crime for immigrants to seek work or to fail to carry documentation.
Even before the ruling, some states were having second thoughts about those laws. The Arizona approach might drive out illegal immigrants, but it also scares away tourists and businesses.
Thousands of immigrants have, in fact, self-deported, largely because of a lack of jobs. But many will be back when the economy picks up, and many American employers will welcome them, just as they did before. That underscores the biggest failure of our immigration system: It doesn’t provide enough legal workers to meet the needs of employers.
Romney’s glancing response to Monday’s ruling was that the lack of progress on immigration reform “represents yet another broken promise by this president.”
“As Candidate Obama, he promised to present an immigration plan during his first year in office,” said a one-paragraph statement from the Romney campaign. “But four years later, we are still waiting.”
The nation has been waiting much longer than that for immigration reform. President George W. Bush made immigration reform a priority in his second term, but partisan gridlock ensued. In 2007, 55 percent of Americans listed illegal immigration among the most pressing problems facing Congress, according to the Pew Research Center. That figure has fallen to 39 percent.
What’s Obama done? He’s deported more immigrants than any president in history, alienating a lot of Latino voters in the process. But he also went to bat for them when the states started passing laws meant to harass immigrants into leaving. And then there’s the DREAM Act Lite.
Meanwhile, we’ve heard precious little about what a President Romney would do to fix the immigration system. More from his Monday statement: “Today’s decision underscores the need for a president who will lead on this critical issue and work in a bipartisan fashion to pursue a national immigration strategy.”
Yes, it does. So far, Romney hasn’t given voters any reason to believe he would be that president.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
CONGRESS, NOT STATES, MUST LEAD ON IMMIGRATION CHANGE
Here is the message members of Congress need to take from the latest developments on immigration: It’s their job to fix the problems. If they don’t do it, the states largely can’t, but the executive branch can and will.
The Supreme Court’s Monday ruling that invalidated three key parts of an Arizona law that attempted to get tougher on illegal immigrants emphasized that the state was intruding into areas where Congress’ authority takes precedence.
But even the majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy made reference to the “hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens” apprehended in Arizona each year and highway signs south of Phoenix warning the traveling public about possible speeding smugglers carrying weapons.
He wrote that Arizona’s problems “must not be underestimated.” But the court concluded that state lawmakers reached too far in trying to address them.
“The National Government has significant power to regulate immigration,” Kennedy wrote. “With power comes responsibility, and the sound exercise of national power over immigration depends on the Nation’s meeting its responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse. Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the State may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
That sounds distinctly like a challenge to Congress, which for years has let partisanship and pandering substitute for leadership, instead of devising comprehensive, essential reforms based on “thoughtful, rational civil discourse.”
Arizona undertook the most aggressive effort to fill the void, and other states were watching to see whether it was a lead to follow.
The Obama administration had won lower-court rulings blocking four parts of Arizona’s 2010 law, known as S.B. 1070, from taking effect.
The justices upheld the lower courts on three sections: Arizona can’t have police make warrantless arrests of people they think might be deportable; can’t punish people for not carrying federal immigration registration papers; and can’t make it a state crime for illegal immigrants to get jobs.
The court said a provision requiring police to check the immigration status of everyone arrested or detained, even for minor transgressions, isn’t invalid on its face, but the justices left open the door for future challenges if individual rights are violated once the law gets enforced.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the majority. Justice Samuel Alito supported upholding the status check provision and striking down the criminalization of failure to carry documents. (Justice Elena Kagan didn’t participate.)
But Justice Antonin Scalia vehemently disagreed that any parts of the law should be tossed. States, he wrote, “have the right to protect their borders against foreign nationals, just as they have the right to execute foreign nationals for murder.”
Justice Clarence Thomas also said none of the Arizona provisions were pre-empted by federal law.
It’s telling that Kennedy and Scalia used their opposing opinions to reflect contrasting views of the discretion federal officials have to decide how to deploy limited resources and whom to deport.
Noting that the federal government removes hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants annually, Kennedy referred to the “immediate human concerns” that get taken into account, such as family situations, whether individuals pose a public safety threat and the depth of their ties to the community.
Scalia accused the majority of focusing on “dry legalities” instead of the “very human realities” that Arizonans “feel themselves under siege” by illegal immigrants amid the administration’s “refusal to enforce” the law.
Scalia plainly disagreed with President Barack Obama’s policy of deferring action against young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children but have led productive lives. But what solutions have critics offered for a long-standing problem?
As the court pointed out, Congress has power and responsibility in this area. What’s lacking is political will to do what’s in the nation’s best interest.
Kansas City Star
SUPREME COURT RULES WISELY ON IMMIGRATION
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday correctly rejected the notion proposed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and others that states can supersede the federal government and impose harsh crackdowns on immigrants.
The decision may help put the brakes on growing concerns that the Roberts Court is as likely to heed conservative talking points as legal precedents. The seminal test is the ruling on the Affordable Care Act, which is expected on Thursday.
The court’s long-awaited decision on Arizona’s immigration law vindicates a challenge by the Obama administration in three important areas.
Arizona cannot make it a crime for immigrants to be without identification papers showing they are in the country legally, the high court said. The state also can’t make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job. And officials can’t arrest someone only because they suspect the person is in the state illegally.
The court let stand the law’s noxious “show me your papers” provision, which requires law enforcement officers to try to verify a person’s immigration status during a stop or arrest. This edict understandably has given rise to fears that whole groups of people will face a greater chance of being stopped on flimsy pretenses.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said more scrutiny from state and federal courts was needed to determine whether the provision is being enforced in a constitutional way.
Monday’s ruling should serve as an incentive for Congress to get serious about a realistic immigration policy. And it should help to convince states that they are wasting time, money and good will by listening to Kobach, a lawyer who continually wins the confidence of elected officials, despite a near consistent record of being slapped down by courts.
IT’S NOT OVER
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday on the Arizona immigration law, and life as we know it continued. Both sides claimed victory in what amounts to a ruling that changes parts of the controversial law but leaves the nation no closer to an effective strategy to address immigration.
While the high court ruling primarily centered on the role of the federal government versus the responsibilities of the states, the justices left the law open to further court challenges and legal interpretation. So the heat over immigration reform rages on.
Opponents of the Arizona law say the bill promotes racial profiling of Hispanics. The statute’s supporters argue it gives local and state police powers they need to help enforce federal immigration laws, since the federal government has failed to control the flow of illegal immigrants.
Both sides have a point, but there should be no doubt that it is Washington’s responsibility to come up with a clear yet comprehensive set of immigration laws and policies. No state should have to take on a role that clearly falls within the federal government’s purview.
Unfortunately, neither the Obama administration nor congressional Republicans have shown real commitment and leadership on this issue. Both sides seem content to slug it out rhetorically rather than compromise to address the plight of the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.
The Supreme Court did its job and provided some clarity on the Arizona law, but the need for a federal response to reforming the nation’s immigration policies remains apparent.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
COURT RULING GUTS LAW, SHOULD HAVE GONE FURTHER
The Supreme Court on Monday critically wounded Arizona’s immigration law, striking down three key provisions and sending the message that federal law trumps state law on immigration. The court should have gone one step further and killed the law altogether by striking down the noxious “show me your papers” requirement, but even there it left the measure pretty much toothless and left open the door for further litigation.
The ruling is generally a victory for reasonable immigration policy, the Obama administration and many in the immigrant community. It also should mean that immigration policy and immigration reform need to be settled in the halls of Congress, not in the halls of state capitols. Congress and the Obama administration need to get to work on that.
Arizona’s law was the result of understandable frustration with lack of change at the federal level; a frustration that’s felt in a number of states, including Wisconsin. Arizona’s answer was to try to impose a harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants and impose a law that superseded federal law. But the Constitution is clear, states do not have the authority to supersede or undermine federal law.
The high court recognized that Monday by gutting the Arizona law. It struck down provisions requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Those provisions went beyond cooperating with federal authorities; they were an attempt to take over federal policy. And they put too much onus on the undocumented worker, not on employers who hire the worker.
The court did leave intact the provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is in the United States illegally. But since the police can’t arrest a person simply for not having papers, it substantially weakened the provision. The court also said that provision could see further litigation, which suggests that it, too, eventually could be struck down.
Still, by leaving the provision intact for now, the court leaves a wedge between law enforcement and the illegal immigrant community. If they believe they can be asked for papers any time, illegal immigrants are much less likely to report crimes or be willing to work with police.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the law should be read to avoid concerns that immigration status checks could lead to prolonged detention or racial profiling. And it’s true that the law expressly forbids racial profiling.
But it’s still likely that racial profiling will rear its ugly head when law enforcement attempts to meet the requirements of the law. How many citizens carry with them proof of their citizenship? Even if it’s been reduced to a simple question, “Show me your papers” smacks too much of authoritarian regimes that like to keep their thumbs on their citizens.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer tried to put the best face on the ruling in a written statement by saying that the ruling marks a victory for people who believe in the responsibility of states to defend their residents. “The case for SB1070 has always been about our support for the rule of law. That means every law, including those against both illegal immigration and racial profiling,” Brewer said. “Law enforcement will be held accountable should this statute be misused in a fashion that violates an individual’s civil rights.”
We hope so, but we’d prefer another ruling that ensures no racial profiling by striking down the provision.
In the meantime, Arizona and other states should pay attention to the gist of the ruling as spelled out by Kennedy: “Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.”
So if you don’t like immigration policy, and there’s a lot not to like, tell Congress – not your state legislator.
San Jose Mercury News
ARIZONA ‘PAPERS, PLEASE’ PROVISION DOESN’T CONSTITUTE ENDORSEMENT
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday striking down most of Arizona’s draconian immigration law was a relief, even if one of the most unnerving aspects of the law survived this round in court.
The justices ruled that most of the law infringed on the federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration enforcement, even if the feds have fumbled their role badly. But the court upheld the most controversial provision, which allows officers to demand immigration papers from anyone they’ve detained for other reasons and suspect is undocumented. That revives the specter of driving while Hispanic and being taken into custody as an excuse to check immigration status.
The ruling could embolden more states to adopt similar policies, as Alabama, Georgia and others did after Arizona’s law was passed in 2010. But the court’s decision to allow the “papers, please” provision does not appear to be an endorsement of it. In their 5-3 ruling, the justices made clear that they’ll be monitoring enforcement of the law, which has yet to take effect, to ensure it doesn’t lead to racial profiling or other constitutional violations.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said it wouldn’t be appropriate for the court to rule on that part of the law “before the state courts had an opportunity to construe it and without some showing that enforcement of the provision in fact conflicts with federal immigration law and its objectives.”
He added, “This opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”
It’s hard to imagine how this law could be enforced without racial profiling, which is why immigration advocates have been so worried about it – and why they were angered by Monday’s ruling. What characteristics, after all, would lead a police officer to suspect that a person had entered the country illegally? We doubt many Canadians or Swedes will be asked to prove they’re here legally. We suspect that’s why the court left the door open to further challenges.
The bulk of the decision affirmed the widely held view that it’s the federal government’s responsibility to craft and enforce immigration law. The court said Arizona can’t make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job or to fail to carry immigration papers, and that it can’t arrest people solely on suspicion that they are in the country illegally.
All along, Arizona lawmakers argued that they passed this law because the feds had failed in their responsibility. They’re right about that; the U.S. government has failed. But that’s not a good enough reason for states to step in, as the high court affirmed.
The ruling should be another jolt to Congress and President Barack Obama to get serious about long-range immigration reform. Courts can’t fix everything. Humane, practical and fair solutions to the mess we have today can only come from the Capitol.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
COURT KNOCKS DOWN EXTREME IMMIGRATION LAW
The most important sentence in Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional most parts of a draconian illegal immigration law in Arizona offers a history lesson about what the word “illegal” actually means on an issue that has divided America.
“Removal is a civil matter,” the court held, “and one of its principal features is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials, who must decide whether to pursue removal at all.”
In other words, being an undocumented worker–or being the child of parents who crossed the border between Mexico and America without proper authorization, or being a Canadian or Bosnian who overstayed the parameters of a work visa – isn’t necessarily a crime.
Put it this way: If you have received a parking ticket but never have been arrested for any other crime, can you answer “no” when asked on a job application whether you have an arrest record?
Of course you can. So can most so-called illegal immigrants.
The court, in saying that Arizona – and many other states – had gone too far in trying to give local police broad immigration enforcement powers, put the debate back squarely where it should be: on the federal government’s shoulders.
And while Justice Anthony Kennedy might not have been thinking about President Barack Obama’s recent executive order that delayed the deportation proceedings for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who haven’t otherwise broken the law, his opinion, joined by four other justices, supports it in theory as part of the federal government’s “broad discretion.”
At issue in Arizona were four sections of the state law. The most onerous provision allowed police to detain any person suspected of being in the country illegally. That raised the very real specter of rogue law enforcement agents harassing Hispanic immigrants, no matter their legal status.
That provision, combined with ones that would have created a new state misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant failing to register with the federal government or attempting to seek employment, would have served notice to immigrants all over the world: Don’t come to Arizona.
The court ruled that all three of those provisions were in conflict with federal law, making them null and void. The court allowed one provision to stand; it permits police officers to check the immigration status of people arrested on other offenses. But the court made it clear that even that provision was ripe for a constitutional challenge in the state courts should it be applied unfairly.
Missouri law has a similar provision, enacted in 2008, that requires arresting agencies to check the immigration status of those who have been “charged and confined.”
Key to Missouri’s law, and Arizona’s, is that the provision doesn’t give local authorities the right to detain individuals based on immigration status alone. Authorities merely are obliged to report them to federal authorities.
The court’s ruling, which probably would have been 6-3 had Justice Elena Kagan not recused herself, sends about as clear a message as the divided court has issued this year: State legislatures dabbling mostly for political purposes in extreme anti-immigration policies should cease and desist.
Arizona acted – and overreacted – because Congress couldn’t summon the courage for immigration reform. Now Congress must do its job by passing a new blueprint for welcoming the next generation of huddled masses yearning to breathe free.