LITTLE ROCK — Supporters and opponents here of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law both found reasons to cheer Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the law and its possible repercussions in Arkansas.
Ruling in a lawsuit brought against Arizona by the Obama administration, the high court struck down provisions of the law that would have required all immigrants to carry immigration papers, made it a violation of Arizona law for an undocumented immigrant to seek or hold a job and allowed police to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants without warrants.
The nation’s highest court upheld a provision that would allow police to check the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally.
At a news conference Monday at the Arkansas Capitol, a coalition of groups that oppose laws like Arizona’s praised the decision.
The decision "is a clear message to the (Arkansas legislative) session in 2013 that the Supreme Court has said that immigration needs to be settled by our U.S. Congress," said the Rev. Steve Copley, chairman of the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance.
Holly Dickson of the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said the ruling establishes that having immigration laws that vary from state to state is not in the country’s best interest.
"America’s interest in this case, the court said, was in having a consistent, reasoned decision from the federal government — one government, not 50-plus," she said.
Some said laws like Arizona’s make Hispanics targets for racial profiling.
"They’re not targeting the Anglo, the European that is here illegally," said Maura Lozano-Yancy, publisher of Hola Arkansas. "They’re only going after the person that looks like a Latino person, working maybe in some of the lower-paid jobs and trying to feed a family."
Jeannie Burlsworth, chairman of the anti-illegal immigration group Secure Arkansas, said Monday she was "elated to say the least."
"This gives police officers the right to check immigration status when they stop people, and this is crucial, we think, because it gives them the right to at least determine the status of illegal aliens," she said.
The ability to ask people about their immigration status can help states collect information about the extent of illegal immigration and its costs, Burlsworth said.
She also said the court’s decision to uphold a portion of Arizona’s laws sends a message to other states that they can act on illegal immigration and comply with the Constitution. She said she expects Arkansas and other states to pass more laws targeting illegal immigration ,"even if they have to do it incrementally."
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said Monday in a written statement, "I was pleased to see the court recognizes that the state of Arizona, or any state for that matter, has the ability to ascertain if a person is here legally. That’s just common sense."
Steve Sheppard, a law professor at the University of Arkansas, said the provision of the law that the Supreme Court upheld would not give police much more power than they already have.
"A police officer is always entitled to ask someone for identification," he said.
With the provisions it struck down, Sheppard said the court affirmed the constitutional authority of Congress to deal with immigration issues — an authority he said is placed with Congress for good reason.
"It doesn’t make sense for one country to have regulation over foreign people that varies every couple hundred miles," he said.
Sheppard said that if the Arkansas Legislature decides to take up illegal immigration in the session that starts in January, it "must make whatever is passed here dealing with immigrants — whether they are here under a valid visa or not — must make that compatible with federal law. That is what the Supreme Court is teaching."