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Immigrant rights activists call Supreme Court ruling a hollow victory

Lawrence Beniexecutive director Illinois Coalitifor Immigrant Refugee Rights talks reporters about U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Arizona's immigratilaw.  | Chandler

Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, talks to reporters about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration law. | Chandler West~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 27, 2012 6:17AM

Illinois is not Arizona, and that’s a good thing, Chicago-based immigrant rights supporters said Monday in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold part of Arizona’s controversial law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop.

But local immigrants and their supporters still must agitate for immigration reform, they said.

“We do not need laws that continue to alienate and divide communities,” said Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “We are fortunate to be here in Illinois, where we have policies that are friendlier toward immigrants and we have political leadership that listens to immigrant communities.”

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld one of the provisions of Arizona’s law that allows police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrest or pull over if they suspect he or she is an illegal immigrant.

Voting 5-3, the court struck down three other provisions in the same law that deal with immigrant workers and that mandate carrying proof of immigration status.

“The scary thing is three of the justices actually thought these provisions were OK, going as far as to say states can do whatever they want to,” Tsao said.

State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero), called the ruling a “hollow victory.”

“Today’s Supreme Court decision . . . sends a strong signal that states and local communities can now do whatever they want regarding immigration,” she said. “Instead of insisting on one uniform federal system for enforcing immigration laws, the court has now thrown open the doors [for states] to enact their own policies.”

Other states followed Arizona’s lead. Alabama, for instance, passed even stricter immigration laws.

In Illinois, Hernandez said, laws were passed allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition to state universities and including all children regardless of immigration status in the All Kids state health insurance program.

“I’m very proud to say I represent a state that’s moved in the completely opposite direction of what Alabama and Arizona are doing,” Hernandez said. “We are trying to move in the direction, hoping that other states will mirror off of us.”

Speaking in Chicago on Monday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), called the court’s decision a “wake-up call for Congress to get busy on immigration reform,” though he acknowledged no such reform would pass during this election year.

“It’s one of the reasons why the president, a little over a week ago, extended this temporary, protected status to those who would otherwise be eligible for the Dream Act. Congress was not going to pass a bill. It’s very clear these young people were facing deportation,” Durbin said. “I hope we don’t find other states writing their own immigration laws.”

Contributing: Abdon Pallasch

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