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Las Vegas reacts to Supreme Court’s immigration decision

Both sides find positives and negatives in ruling on Arizona law


Ross D. Franklin / AP

Maria Durand, left, and Rosa Maria Soto, both from Arizona, cheer as the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, comes down at the Arizona Capitol on Monday, June 25, 2012, in Phoenix. The Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona’s crackdown on immigrants Monday but said a much-debated portion on checking suspects’ status could go forward.

Updated Tuesday, June 26, 2012 | 4:55 p.m.

SCOTUS Rules on Immigration Laws

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on controversial immigration reform laws, striking down some aspects as being unconstitutional while upholding others. KSNV reports.

Advocates from both sides of the immigration debate nationwide reacted swiftly to the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to strike down three of the four provisions in Arizona’s polemical immigration enforcement law — and that included many people who followed the legal challenge closely from Nevada.

While those who hoped the law would be left standing as is took solace that one provision was still on the books, opponents of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 celebrated a partial victory and immediately took aim at the portion upheld.

The court determined Arizona overstepped its bounds by making it a crime for immigrants to fail to register with the federal government and carry proof of legal residency, making it a crime for illegal immigrants to work or to try to find work, and authorizing police to arrest immigrants without a warrant when probable cause exists that they committed a public offense that would lead to deportation under federal law. However, it left intact the provision that requires Arizona law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they have reasonable suspicion the individual might be in the country illegally.

At a news conference, Dane Claussen, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said the national organization has an $8.7 million “war chest” ready to challenge the final provision standing, and opponents said racial profiling was inevitable under the law.

Laura Martin of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said a legal challenge to that provision was “inevitable.”

“This is all because Congress has failed to do anything on immigration,” she said. “Immigration law is complicated, unfair and some would say inhumane. We need to deal with the economic realities that created the situation.”

The ruling on the Arizona law was closely watched throughout the country, including Nevada. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimated in 2010 there were 260,000 people residing illegally in the Silver State.

Locally, since 2008, Metro Police have participated in the 287(g) program, a federal partnership with law enforcement agencies who volunteer for added training so they may participate in some portions of immigration enforcement. With Metro, that means those booked into the Clark County Detention Center who report a foreign birth, a standard question, are referred to one of a handful of specially trained correction officers who have access to the Federal Immigration Database. Yet, with other law enforcement divisions, including seven in Arizona, task forces are also trained to inquire about the immigration status of people they stop on the street, during a traffic stop for example. The Obama administration has said it was working on phasing out the “task force” portion of 287(g) altogether and immediately suspended all of the task force programs in Arizona on Monday.

“In the end, what was kept in Arizona is very similar to 287(g), which is what we have here,” Martin said. “So SB1070 — this gigantic, overreaching, insidious bill — was basically whittled down to 287(g).”

Peter Ashman, an immigration attorney in Las Vegas for 27 years and former chairman of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said one fatal flaw of the Arizona law was that it criminalized acts that are civil violations under federal law.

“Arizona will find out that their law has been gutted by this Supreme Court decision,” Ashman said. “I know (the immigration status check) frustrates Latino groups, who bear the brunt of being pulled over and harassed because of racial or ethnic appearances, but that was a comparatively minor part of this. Other states, like Nevada for instance, aren’t going to say, ‘Oh great, now we can create a law to hold people just so we can let them loose later.’ Under all of the current directives, unless they are actual directives, ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) won’t want them.”

Determining someone’s immigration status can take months in court, Ashman said, and can be complicated. As an example, Ashman offered that someone may flee Syria during its current violent civil conflict, enter the United States illegally and then be detained. A court may decide that person is eligible for asylum.

“Does Arizona want to make that call?” Ashman asked. “You have judges at the federal level who are trained to make that determination. That’s their job. Why would you want our states to have another tier of bureaucracy that duplicates the federal level? Another issue is the expense. Does Arizona really want to house all the detainees? They intended to spend millions from the state budget to detain them.”

While much of the controversy around Arizona’s law has focused on Hispanics, other immigrant groups point out that they are affected, as well. A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that in 2010, immigration from Asia surpassed all other regions.

“Filipinos are the fastest-growing Asian group here, and we may look like Hispanics and even have Hispanic surnames,” said Amie Belmonte, president of the Filipino-American Political Organization with Equal Representation. “The majority of Filipinos are law-abiding residents who are legally able to work here.

“How will you determine if there is reasonable suspicion that someone is here illegally? How else can you do it other than racial profiling? I truly believe there is a domino effect, where Hispanics may be targeted with these laws, but it impacts other immigrant groups.”

On the other side of the spectrum, some were frustrated the federal government challenged the law from Arizona, a state they claim was attempting to execute the laws the federal authorities had failed to enforce.

In a Pew Research Center poll conducted in early June, 59 percent of the general public was in favor of Arizona’s immigration law.

“The problem with the federal government, in my opinion, is that (President Barack) Obama and (Attorney General Eric) Holder should not have sued Arizona for enforcing federal laws,” said Rita Bonilla, Nevada director for American Citizens United, a group that advocates for greater border security and the deportation of those residing here illegally. “Why tie their hands behind their back on illegal immigration? If you are American, you should have no problem with these laws. We are a country of laws, and when you start disobeying laws is when the country starts falling apart.”

Bonilla, who was born in California and describes herself as an “American of Mexican ancestry,” said she was glad the immigration status check provision was upheld. She did not support warrantless detention but thought the provision requiring immigrants to carry proof of their legal residency should have been left standing. Bonilla argued it would not be racial profiling to consider several factors in determining reasonable suspicion over someone’s immigration status. If an officer conducts a traffic stop and the driver cannot speak functional English, or if they lack registration or insurance, they should be detained, she said.

Those on both sides of the issue expressed continued frustration over the political games being played with the immigration issue. As one party attempts to address reform — whether comprehensive or partial — the other party stands in the way to prevent opponents from gaining political capital.

“Both parties did what they did in the past for political reasons,” Ashman said. “To get to comprehensive immigration reform, they will have to focus on what’s in the best interest of the country, economically and socially. We have to balance the integrity of our borders with the future demands for labor and the economic benefits of a thriving immigrant population.”

CORRECTION: This version corrects the amount of money the ACLU has in its "war chest" to challenge the provision in the law deemed constitutional. | (June 28, 2012)

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