Supreme Court Ruling Pushes Advocacy Groups to Act

Posted June 25, 2012 at 6:28pm

Civil rights advocates have launched a multimillion-dollar offensive aimed at beating back the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a central pillar of Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

Concerned that the court’s Monday ruling could encourage other states to pass similar laws, the American Civil Liberties Union and allied immigrant groups unveiled a major fundraising and voter mobilization initiative within hours of the court’s decision. The ACLU pledged to spend its $8.7 million war chest fighting laws that call on police to check the immigration status of people they stop.

The high court allowed that provision in the Arizona law, known as Section 2B, to stand. The justices struck down as intrusions on federal sovereignty three other contentious elements that would make it a crime for immigrants without work permits to seek employment, require them to carry registration documents and authorize the police to arrest any immigrant they believe has committed a deportable offense.

Utah, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana have passed similar packages, all of which the ACLU has challenged. State courts will now weigh those laws in light of Monday’s decision.

Hispanic advocacy groups said the court’s ruling was a call to action unlike any other.

“It intensifies the need for Latinos to participate … particularly in states where these laws were passed,” said Clarissa Martínez-De-Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza. “The majority of the electorate is not necessarily going to be compelled to vote because of issues like these, but when it comes to Latinos, this will determine whose side you’re on.”

The Hispanic population is so small in these states that even high turnout is not likely to have a significant effect on the presidential and Congressional elections.

An April Quinnipiac University national survey showed 62 percent of American voters in favor of the court upholding Arizona’s immigration law. Hispanics were divided; 45 percent wanted the court to uphold the law, while 43 percent said it should be overturned.

Still, the Supreme Court decision will bring racial profiling to the forefront of election-year chatter and could influence state races.

“No one legislative body should assume that today’s ruling will stand for long.  The court challenges will continue as we are certain racial profiling is unconstitutional,” said Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.  “States like California can lead and go against the anti-immigrant tide by erecting fire walls to racial profiling, including legislative mandates.”

The group is set to blanket Los Angeles with nearly 700 “dreamers” — illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before age 16  — in a fundraising and get-out-the-vote campaign in Latino and Asian neighborhoods.

“It’s up to the community itself to make history and put their money where their fears are,” Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for group, said in an email to Roll Call.

The court indicated that Section 2B might be unconstitutional if it leads to unlawful detentions, and ACLU lawyers are considering advancing their civil rights challenge to the law based on that premise, said Andre Segura, staff attorney at ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The ruling will also amplify advocates’ demands that the federal government halt two Department of Homeland Security immigration programs. One, known as Secure Communities, sends fingerprints of anyone arrested to federal immigration officials for possible detention, while a second authorizes local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Congress is not likely to take up comprehensive immigration reform this year,  but interest groups on both sides used the high court decision to call for legislation and drive home broader political messages.

“Even if the Obama administration refuses to enforce most immigration laws, states have the power to deter and discourage illegal aliens from settling or remaining within their jurisdictions,” Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement. “It is now up to Congress to hold the Obama administration accountable for carrying out the nation’s immigration laws in a manner that protects the interests of the American people in all 50 states.”

Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the low-income minority advocacy group Center for Community Change, warned that a future president — he stopped short of naming presumptive  GOP nominee Mitt Romney — could reverse the Obama administration’s recent decision to halt the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.