Ariz. Ruling Cements Parties' Divide on Immigration

Ariz. Ruling Cements Parties' Divide on Immigration

By Alexis Simendinger - June 25, 2012

The Supreme Court's ruling Monday striking down most of an Arizona immigration law guaranteed that both parties will continue to champion opposing views on immigration through November. The two sides agreed Monday on one big idea, however: Congress must fix immigration. And that is unlikely to happen before 2013 or 2014.

President Obama, according to analysts, emerged as a partial winner and political benefactor after ordering his administration to challenge Arizona’s law. The president has been running 40 points ahead of Mitt Romney among Latinos in some polls and is eager to contrast his outlook on immigration with policies proposed by members of the Republican Party.

Court-watchers described the justices’ decision as largely a legal victory for the administration, despite their ruling that law enforcement officers in Arizona can verify the immigration status of suspected undocumented persons in the state. In allowing that aspect of the law to go forward, the ruling encouraged Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to boast during a news conference that Arizona had been “vindicated.”

The court struck down provisions of the law that made it a crime for undocumented residents to be in Arizona, and to seek employment or perform work. And it ruled against the state’s requirement that foreigners “complete or carry an alien registration document.”

Obama thinks he can win in key states such as Colorado, Nevada, Florida and Virginia by increasing the participation rate among Latinos, and perhaps also in Arizona, a reliably red state in presidential races since 1996. Encouraging Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and younger voters to perceive Republicans as intolerant on immigration is part of the Obama campaign’s strategy to compensate for an expected fall-off in support -- from 2008 levels -- among white working-class voters.

Obama’s challenge is to galvanize Latino voters without alienating the rest of the electorate that said -- at least before the court ruled Monday -- that they supported Arizona’s decision to let police check the immigration status of suspects stopped or apprehended in the state for other reasons. Seventy-five percent of Hispanics disapprove of Arizona’s approach, while 58 percent of the general public approve it, according to an early-June survey cited by the Pew Hispanic Center.

It is unlikely that the Supreme Court’s partial affirmation of the federal government’s position will dramatically alter public opinion about Obama, Romney or immigration before Election Day, but the candidates can use elements of the 5-3 ruling to bolster arguments on the stump. (Associate Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case because of her previous involvement in it as U.S. solicitor general.)

Arizona’s pursuit of information about suspects’ immigration status will require cooperation from the Department of Homeland Security. In directives Monday, the administration advised its employees that requests for such data could rank behind the federal government’s public safety and border security priorities. In other words, Arizona police may call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for information about suspects in custody, but ICE will not drop “priority” duties to run searches for Arizona in all circumstances.

The president, through DHS, issued a directive this month temporarily halting the deportation of qualifying offspring of illegal immigrants who came with their parents to the United States as children. The change in enforcement policy opened the door for the children of illegals to obtain work permits for as long as the policy remains in effect.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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