PHOENIX (Reuters) - Republican Governor Jan Brewer hailed Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a key part of Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, while the law’s critics said thousands of families will live in fear in the southwestern state bordering Mexico.
The Supreme Court supported the law’s most controversial aspect, requiring police to check the immigration status of people they stop, but threw out three other provisions that had been challenged by the federal government.
“This is a day we have been waiting for, and make no mistake, Arizona is ready,” Brewer, who signed the law in April 2010, told a news conference.
The law was passed by Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature, earning the praise of U.S. conservatives and inspiring similar statutes in other states. President Barack Obama’s administration challenged it in court, saying the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration policy.
“We know the eyes of the world will be upon us, we know the critics will be watching and waiting, hoping for another opportunity to continue their legal assault against our state,” Brewer said.
Brewer has clashed with Obama over the issue of illegal immigration and was seen wagging her finger at the president in a meeting at a Phoenix airport earlier this year. She called Monday’s decision “a victory for the rule of law.”
The three provisions that were struck down required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowed police to arrest immigrants without warrants if officers believed they committed crimes that would make them deportable.
Brewer expressed confidence that Arizona law officers would now implement the law “efficiently, effectively and in harmony with the Constitution” and said civil rights would be protected and racial profiling would not be tolerated.
Supporters say the law is needed because the federal government has failed to secure Arizona’s border with Mexico.
Outside the state Capitol, a few dozen supporters of the law waved American flags and toted placards reading: “Stop sponging off the US taxpayer - go home,” and “SB 1070 is fair and it works,” referring to the law.
Critics say the law, particularly the section upheld on Monday, would lead to racial profiling in a state where Hispanics represent nearly a third of its 6.5 million people. Of those, an estimated 360,000 are illegal immigrants. Most U.S. illegal immigrants are Hispanics, with many entering the country through Mexico.
“No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like,” Obama said in a statement. “Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the court’s decision recognizes.”
Petra Falcon, the director of activist group Promise Arizona, said that with the ruling “thousands of families will remain living in the shadows and fearing the police rather than relying on them.”
After Brewer signed the measure two years ago, thousands of activists took to the streets of Phoenix and called for a convention and tourism boycott.
Around 100 demonstrators, some toting placards reading “Brown Skin is Not a Crime” and “We are Human,” gathered on the street opposite U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in Phoenix following the ruling.
Some chanted “Stop 1070 - We will not comply,” and “People Power,” as volunteers handed out bottled water in 105-degree heat.
Activist Carlos Garcia saw nothing to celebrate in the court’s ruling, saying “the life of the immigrant is worse today than it was yesterday.” He called for a national day of “noncompliance” on July 27 to protest the law.
Phoenix Councilman Michael Nowakowski, a Democrat whose district is 68 percent Hispanic, said he felt the justices had left it open to see how Arizona would implement the law.
“What’s happening here in Arizona is that we are rewriting a chapter of civil rights - whatever happens here ... is going to be the chapter of civil rights for our days,” he said.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a backer of the law who bills himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” said the ruling should bolster efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants.
“It’s important to show that law enforcement can still question the immigration status of a person they stop,” said Arpaio, who is being sued by the federal government over alleged racial profiling and abuse of power. “We have to have that.”
After the ruling, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rescinded the authority a joint state-federal task force had given Arizona to enforce federal immigration laws.
Asked by Reuters if he thought the court ruling would make much difference in practice to how Phoenix police officers enforced the law, Police Chief Daniel Garcia said “No.”
Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Will Dunham and Philip Barbara