Undocumented Life: Parts of Arizona immigration law struck down, but "show me your papers" provision still stands

While Monday's Supreme Court ruling struck down parts of Arizona's punitive immigration bill, SB1070, it upheld what to many fighting for immigration reform and justice is the most troubling part of the law.

The sections that were ruled unconstitutional had required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned undocumented immigrants from soliciting work in public places and allowed undocumented immigrants to be arrested by police without warrants if they are committing a crime that would make them deportable.

But the provision that had rankled immigration advocates and the Obama Administration, allowing police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, was upheld.

Lawrence Benito, chief executive officer of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, a non-profit immigrant rights organization, said he is disappointed that what he sees as the most egregious part of the ruling remains intact.

"We believe this is going to give states like Arizona, and rogue cops, the license to profile due to ethnic and religious affiliations," said Benito. "Given that this is the United State of America and we believe in civil rights and basic freedoms, this is a backwards step in terms of civil rights."

But another immigrant rights groups had a more upbeat take on the ruling. The National Day Labor Organizing Network, which works with immigrants whose mode of looking for work would have become illegal in Arizona if they were no longer allowed to solicit for jobs in public places, had this to say in response to the ruling:

"The court’s ruling in part confirms what we have said since the beginning: Arizona’s war of attrition against immigrants is not only inhumane, it’s also unconstitutional. However, upholding the racial profiling section poses a great risk to the constitution the court is charged to defend and to the Arizona families who will be targeted if it goes into effect. We will prevent that from happening."

Arizona is not the only state with harsh immigration rules. The year after SB1070 was adopted in Arizona in April 2010, Georgia and Alabama, among others, brought in copycat legislation. In the case of Alabama, whose law says that schools must ask students for proof of their immigration status, it was even harsher.

Though legal challenges to these immigration laws are working their way through lower courts in several states - Georgia, Alabama, Utah and Indiana - Arizona's was the first to reach the Supreme Court.

In February 2011, Illinois saw the introduction of its own version of SB1070, a bill that would have allowed police to question a person's immigration status if there were "reasonable suspicion" that they didn't have immigration papers.

HB1969, introduced by 55th District Rep. Randy Ramey Jr., didn't make it out of the House.

Benito says that Illinois was successful at killing legislation like HB1969 because "here in Illinois we're in a different situation in that we have elected officials that look at immigrants as contributors. Illinois and Chicago have long been welcoming communities, a welcoming state and a welcoming city to immigrants, who add to our cultural fabric."

Legislators in Illinois recently took action to prohibit the building of an immigration detention center in the nearby village of Crete.

But undocumented immigrants in many counties around the state still deal with the federal Secure Communities initiative, the focus of a previous Chicago Reporter cover investigation, which has been called a "dragnet" that picks up undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes, despite its stated mission to focus primarily on criminal immigrants.

What's next for Arizona's SB1070?

Benito says he is placing his hopes on more "legal challenges to the law in the lower courts."

Groups like the National Day Labor Organizing Network, which participated in one of the first attempts to tackle SB1070 in court, have vowed to continue fighting the provision that allows police to stop undocumented immigrants and ask for their "papers."

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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