Supreme Court ruling on Arizona SB 1070 not a big hit with pair of UCC leaders
Written by Jeff Woodard
June 28, 2012

Major-leaguer hitters win high praise for going 3-for-4.

But the U.S. Supreme Court struck out when it struck down three-quarters of Arizona's controversial SB 1070 immigration law June 25, according to two United Church of Christ leaders in the Grand Canyon State.

"It is preposterous for proponents of SB 1070 to see any 'victory' in our Supreme Court's ruling," said the Rev. Phil Reller, chair of the UCC's Southwest Conference justice and witness ministries team and lead organizer of Conference opposition to SB 1070.

"There's definitely going to be a human cost," said the Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, Ariz. "It would have been so much easier and stronger if the Supreme Court had come out stronger against it."

The court overturned three pieces of the law but let stand the Section 2(B) "show me your papers" segment. That portion permits local police to check immigration status of people they stop if the detainees are considered a questionable threat.

"What criteria could police possibly use to make them suspicious and demand citizenship papers other than how people look, dress or sound?" said Reller. "Last week [Maricopa County] Sheriff [Joe] Arpaio arrested a 6-year-old child. Who would call terrorizing, degradation of human rights, separation of families and violations of civil rights a victory? Countless personal stories of abusive and racist behaviors have been gathered."

Added Mayer, "This just makes it more and more clear that our politicians on all sides have completely failed to take comprehensive immigration (reform) seriously."

The three parts of SB 1070 rejected by the court were: making it a state crime for illegal immigrants not to possess their federal registration cards; making it a crime for illegal immigrants to work, apply for work or solicit work; and allowing state and local police to arrest illegal immigrants without a warrant when probable cause exists that they committed "any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States."

Just hours after the June 25 ruling, the Obama administration announced it was suspending indefinitely a program known as 287(g), in which local authorities are permitted by the federal government to make immigration-related arrests.

"The Obama Administration only suspended the 287(g) contract in Arizona –– which is a direct move to counter the Section 2(B) piece of SB 1070 that the Supreme Court allowed to tentatively let move forward," said Mayer.

Mayer said the Administration has told Homeland Security in Arizona to respond to local law enforcement requests only to pick up undocumented immigrants if the person is: a convicted criminal; someone who has been deported in the past; or is a recent illegal border crosser.

"All of this is good," said Mayer. "But the hard point is that with Section 2(B) still in place, it creates a culture of fear among the immigrant community and others, which will have a drastic effect on law enforcement and the ability to create safe and healthy communities."

Mayer said he spoke with Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor after the ruling was announced. "He said, 'This is really going to make our work difficult. Anyone there's a question about, we'll have to hold them, and it's going to completely bog down our system.'"

Responding to claims citing high rates of criminal activity by undocumented immigrants, Mayer said, "There's a criminal element in all of the populations. It just happens that the immigrant community, for the most part, wants to stay low-key. They're not the ones committing all these huge, violent crimes."

UCC churches in Arizona are partnering with interfaith communities, said Reller, adding that grass-roots organizers and the national Our Faith Our Vote campaign are helping to register large numbers of Latino/Latina voters.

Immigrant communities have made the United States "strong and vibrant and alive" for over 200 years, said Mayer. "We've always had new blood and new people coming in with new ideas, but every 25 years, we've regulated the immigrant community."

Despite Section 2(B) remaining in place, Mayer sounds optimistic. "This will go to a lower court and probably be stopped –– that would be my hope," he said.

Reller agreed.

"This part of the law will again be challenged by courageous truth-tellers sharing their personal stories," he said. "We believe victory is coming. We're marching on in solidarity with those most brutalized by racist policies and forced attrition. God's reign calls us to act for justice and celebrate diversity."

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