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Supreme Court Renders Split Decision on Arizona Immigration Law

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Updated, 1:28 p.m.

The Supreme Court this morning rendered a split decision on Arizona’s immigration enforcement law, upholding some police powers while striking down state criminal penalties.

In a 5-3 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court upheld the provision of S.B. 1070 that allowed law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people whom they suspect of being in the country illegally, the “papers please” provision, as critics have dubbed it.

But the justices struck down most other parts of the law, such as provisions that made it a state crime for undocumented immigrants not to have identification, work or apply for work, as well as a provision that allowed law enforcement officers to arrest without a warrant undocumented immigrants suspected of committing crimes that would lead to their deportation.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in a dissenting opinion, ripped President Barack Obama’s executive action to end deportations of as many as 1.4 million young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.

Scalia wrote that conserving resources can’t be a justification for Obama’s action, given that the administrative costs of background checks and ruling on requests for dispensation “will necessarily be deducted from immigration enforcement.”

He added, “To say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.”

Democrats and Republicans declared partial victories.

Obama issued a statement saying he was “pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law.” But he said the decision makes it clear that Congress needs to act on a broad immigration reform measure. “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system — it’s part of the problem,” Obama said.

The president warned, however, that federal officials would be monitoring Arizona law enforcement to ensure it does not use the ID provision that the court upheld to racially profile Hispanics.

“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,” Obama said.

He reiterated that he would continue to prioritize immigration enforcement to focus on security threats and criminals “and not, for example, students who earn their education — which is why the Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this month that it will lift the shadow of deportation from young people who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own.”

For his part, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney issued a vague statement that criticized Obama for failing to push immigration reform in his first term.

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