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Activist Groups Want More Rights For Immigrants

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Area activists see the US Supreme Court ruling on Arizona's immigration law as just the start of protecting civil liberties. It was, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLU), a partial victory that must lead to broader rejection of attitudes and actions that fly in the face of the Constitution.

"There is a lot of work to do on this issue," ACLU Communications Director Christopher Ott said. "Hopefully, other states will reject what Arizona has done. We think it's a really significant issue."

Court Ruling

The Supreme Court split-decision struck down several provisions of Arizona's immigration law, but upheld one of the most controversial elements, the so-called "Show Your Papers" provision. It requires state police to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained or arrested in the state who police reasonably suspect is in the country illegally. The court ruled against three provisions of the law, known as S.B. 1070, ruling they encroached upon federal legislation. Two of the provisions made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to reside in and seek employment in Arizona. A third allowed police to arrest without warrant any individual they had probable cause to believe had committed a deportable offense.

"It wasn't everything we were hoping for," Ott said. "We don't think the Arizona law is a good idea at all. We were pleased with the fact (the court) did at least raise questions about some of it."

Worst Case Scenario

The "Show Your Papers" provision tempered Ott's enthusiasm about the court ruling. He and others see that part of the law as among the most dangerous.

"There are parts of the Constitution that talk about US citizens and other parts talking about all people, that whoever they are, they're entitled to due process," Ott said. "You can't railroad them and deport them. There are cases where US citizens have been misidentified and deports. That is a nightmare scenario we want to avoid."

Frank Soults, communications director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), voiced the same concerns.

"We're encouraged, but of course that last provision that remained ... is troubling because it practically mandates that (police) engage in racial profiling," Soults said. "There has been a lot of comment about that and how a lot of the time people make assumptions that certain individuals are undocumented immigrants because of the color of their skin. We're still hopeful that final provision will fall and that we'll just have police protecting people's securities and the federal government dealing with illegal immigration."

Local Impact

Soults said the ruling has a clear impact in Massachusetts, where the immigrant population has climbed over the years.

"It just proves we need to go out there and make sure legislators and all elected officials are more sensitive to immigrants' rights," Soults said. "In Massachusetts, there are no laws that allow the state to act this way. The fear is that the provision left in place would encourage legislators to consider harmful legislation. The hope is nothing like that will be introduced here."

In Massachusetts, there were 912,310 immigrants in 2007, comprising a little more than 14 percent of the population. One of the cities with a high concentration of immigrants is Worcester, which has a high Latino population (20.9 percent of the city's 181,045 residents as of the 2010 Census), but has seen an influx of people of other races as well."

The ACLU shares Soults' concern, according to Ott, pointing out that on the day of the ruling, the organization announced new funding to fight the Arizona law and "copycat versions."

One of the signs that much work remains to raise public consciousness about civil rights, according to Ott, was the reaction in Massachusetts to the decision.

"It's always a mix," he said. "We did a blog on (a Web site) and very often on those kinds of sites you get a lot of people that are angry, which we did. But there are people making the same arguments we do, also."

A Victory

While some were tempered in there enthusiasm, one local activist saw the ruling as a clear win for the U.S. Government and President Barack Obama.

“I think it is clearly a sign that federalism trumps states’ rights,” said Ravi Perry, an assistant professor of Political Science and director of Ethnic Studies at Clark University. Perry is also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association for Ethnic Studies. “That’s a reality you learn in political science 101, seriously.”

While Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has hailed the court’s ruling as a victory for Americans because one provision was upheld, Perry noted the law can still be challenged. He said it lost some of its teeth because police officers are now prohibited from arresting people on minor immigration charges.

Perry said Arizona’s immigrant law was “clearly an overreach. The Supreme Court made it very clear. Despite complaints about sovereignty, immigration remains a federal issue.”

Obama, who enjoyed another victory recently when the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a key part of his health care reform, said: “I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona's immigration law. What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”

“At the same time,” the president continued, “I remain concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally. I agree with the Court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like. 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 referenced the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement 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.”

Brown Slams Warren

Responding to the ruling in a statement to GoLocalWorcester, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown took a shot at his November challenger, Elizabeth Warren, over immigration, saying she “has the wrong approach. She supports amnesty and taxpayer funded benefits, including in-state college tuition, for those in the country illegally. She wants to make illegal immigration more attractive. I want to strengthen our legal immigration system and provide more opportunities for those who have played by the rules."

Brown said the court’s decision was “another reminder that the federal government needs to deal with our broken immigration system. I believe the first step is securing the border and turning off the magnets that encourage people to come into country illegally. We are a nation of immigrants and should fix the system to make it easier for people seeking to enter our country legally, but we are also a nation of laws that have to be respected and observed.”

Problems Acknowledged

Even as it struck down many of the provisions in the Arizona law, the Supreme Court acknowledged the state’s desperate situation with illegal immigrants.

“The pervasiveness of federal regulation does not diminish the importance of immigration policy to the States,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. “Arizona bears many of the consequences of unlawful immigration. Hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens are apprehended in Arizona each year … Unauthorized aliens who remain in the State comprise, by one estimate, almost six percent of the population.”

“Statistics alone do not capture the full extent of Arizona’s concerns,” Kennedy continued. “Accounts suggest there is an ‘epidemic of crime, safety risks, serious property damage, and environmental problems’ associated with the influx of illegal migration across private land near the Mexican border."

Soults also acknowledged the problem with illegal immigration, saying, "No question a lot of people are here without papers ... there are 11 million people here without documents. It's a huge problem, but we've had kind of a hypocritical and dysfunctional system. People have come here to provide for their families. For a long time there was no will to change the system to allow these people to come here legally, but it was accepted. The fact is they're here and working and now, when the economy is weak, people are suddenly saying we don't want them here, anymore. We need to reform the system by creating a path to citizenship - not amnesty, but real reform to the system."


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