Editorial — Common sense from the court

Given all the attention that followed the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act — attention that was certainly warranted, by the way — there’s a chance that the high court’s ruling on the draconian Arizona immigration law may not have received the attention it deserved.

The ruling came down from the court on June 25 — three days before the monumental health care decision. And in case you missed it or lost details of the immigration decision in the large shadow of health care reform, here’s what happened:

The court struck down three of the four provisions of the Arizona law that were under consideration:

  • It ruled unconstitutional the law’s requirement that all immigrants obtain or carry immigration registration papers.
  • It also struck down the portion of the law that made it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job.
  • The court also ruled against the section of the law that allowed police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

The court left standing, but with some severe limitations, the controversial section of the law referred to as the “show me your papers” provision. At least for the time being. The court, according to the Associated Press, took the teeth out of that provision by prohibiting police officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges. Some court watchers, including writers for the Washington Post and The New York Times, said the high court was all but inviting another, more specific, challenge to that provision of the law once the state had actually implemented it.

Whatever the motivation behind the “papers please” decision, it left some civil rights and social justice advocates uneasy.

But for the most part, those same advocates — and the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration — were pleased with the court and with the outcome of the Arizona immigration law case.

“The court’s decision to strike down the other provisions of the Arizona law reaffirms the strong role of the federal government in regulating immigration,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the migration committee chairman.

In a story distributed by the Catholic News Service, Bishop Gomez said he found comfort that the Supreme Court wrote that the “papers please” provision could face further scrutiny and might eventually be found unconstitutional.

“We are encouraged that the court did not rule it constitutional,” he said. And when it comes to the implementation of that section of the law, he said, “We stand in solidarity with our brother bishops in Arizona as they prepare to respond to the implementation of this provision and its potential human consequences.”

Arizona’s Catholic bishops said in a statement released June 25 that they believed the “papers” provision “will not enhance security, benefit the economy of our state or foster its well-being.”

“Rather, this provision might separate families, create the possibility of racial profiling even if unintended by the law, heighten fear in the immigrant community, jeopardize community policing, and not fix the federal immigration policy which many across the political spectrum have said is broken.”

The Catholic Conference of Kentucky issued a statement that same day also expressing support for the court’s decision.

“The Court is right to urge caution in carrying out the provision of the law it approved,” the statement said, referring to the “papers please” section of the Arizona law. “The Catholic Conference is concerned that this could lead to the profiling of persons because of their skin color or ethnicity. Enforcement will almost certainly lead to the unnecessary separation and breakdown of families.”

“Fortunately, much of the law was struck down and here in Kentucky we hope lawmakers refrain from introducing bills in 2013 that try to fix the broken immigration system at the state level,” the statement added.

Toward that end, the conference and its executive director, Father Patrick Delahanty, sent a letter to members of both the state House of Representatives and Senate, noting that some Kentucky lawmakers had in the past introduced legislation similar to the Arizona law.

“Our four bishops, like bishops in other states, have vigorously opposed these bills because they fail to conform to our understanding of how the immigrant is to be treated,” Father Delahanty’s letter said.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court has struck down the Arizona law, as we believe it would have adversely impacted families and undermined trust between law enforcement and local communities.”

Controversy raged over the Arizona law from the moment it was introduced. Some people on radio and television talk shows are still vitriolic about the need for harsh measures it outlined. In this case, however, we should all be pleased that some common sense, civility — and a genuine concern for the well-being of the immigrant community — has prevailed.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor

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