By JACQUES BILLEAUD, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona officials declared victory Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the "show me your papers" provision of the state's immigration law, while immigrant rights groups vowed to prevent that part of the law from ever taking effect.
While it struck down most of the law, the court preserved a section that requires police to check the status of someone they suspect is in the U.S. illegally, but took the teeth out of it by prohibiting officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges.
The justices also added that the immigration status check could be subject to additional legal challenges. Critics have argued that it allows police officers to racially profile people.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the decision a victory for all Americans, saying that the law could now be enforced and that any officers who violate a person's civil rights will be held accountable.
Immigration rights groups said they were surprised and disappointed by the court's decision, and planned to ask the lower courts to block implementation of the surviving part of 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 Arizona law.
Kansas attorney Kris Kobach, who helped draft the Arizona 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, made it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job 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 the court struck down most of the law.
Standing outside of a Home Depot, Carlos Beltran was looking for day labor work. Beltran, who was born in the U.S. but whose parents are illegal immigrants, said he was glad to hear the court struck down most of the law.
"We can still be here today, find a job and go home and tell our wives we have something to eat tonight," he said.
With the ruling, Beltran said, the potential for racial profiling will now become worse. "I don't want to have my dad afraid of looking for a job. He has four kids. They shouldn't be afraid of trying to make a living," he said.
Audrey Pulido, who owns The Garage Bike Shop, said she was pleased that most of the law was struck down but said it's unfair that police still 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's shop sits inside a shopping area in the predominantly Hispanic town of Guadalupe in the Phoenix area. She said residents do not talk much about the law but it has instilled fear in them and factors into how they plan out 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 writer Mark Sherman in Washington; Terry Tang and Felicia Fonseca in Phoenix; and John Hanna in Topeka, Kan., contributed to this report.