WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats and Republicans scrambled for election-year gain from the Supreme Court's ruling Monday that threw out key provisions of Arizona's immigration law but upheld one that requires police to check the status of people who might appear to be in the U.S. illegally.
Democrats said the ruling risks encouraging racial profiling, while Republicans said it strengthens the right of states to make and enforce their own immigration policies. In hot pursuit of Hispanic voters this presidential and congressional election year, members of both parties said the elected branches of the federal government need to overcome deep divisions and enact long-term laws affecting the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.
The court unanimously upheld the "show me your papers" requirement of the state's law. But even there, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges, and they blunted somewhat its effectiveness by prohibiting officers from arresting people on immigration charges.
The court struck down three major provisions of the Arizona law, including one requirement for all immigrants to obtain or carry registration papers, another making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and a third allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Democrats said the decision shows President Barack Obama was right to challenge the law's constitutionality and praised him for deferring the deportation of some young illegal immigrants. But they also said the decisions could encourage discrimination.
"I am greatly concerned that the provision putting American citizens in danger of being detained by police unless they carry their immigration papers at all times will lead to a system of racial profiling," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from swing-state Nevada.
Republicans, meanwhile, chastised Obama for his executive order and said the court appeared to validate some of the controversial law.
"The Arizona law was born out of the state's frustration with the burdens that illegal immigration and continued drug smuggling impose on its schools, hospitals, criminal justice system and fragile desert environment, " Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl said in a joint statement.
"And," they added, "an administration that chooses to set enforcement policies based on a political agenda, not the laws as written by Congress."
The chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus left open the prospect of taking Arizona to court again over the remaining "show me your papers" provision.
"When three out of four provisions of a state's law are struck down, it obviously can't be viewed as a victory for the state," said Rep. Charles Gonzales, D-Texas. "We will be watching very closely how Arizona exercises this part of the law."