The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (Hispanic Evangelical Association) praised the decision by the Supreme Court to strike down key provisions in Arizona's "polarizing" immigration law targeting undocumented residents.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision on Monday to strike down several key aspects of the controversial Arizona immigration law, but upheld a provision allowing police officers to request that some residents provide documentation proving their U.S. citizenship.
"By striking down the major provisions of SB 1070, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the values that make this nation great and in essence initiated the process of establishing a legal firewall against draconian measures as it pertains to immigration," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the largest Hispanic Christian organization in the U.S.
He added, "Although a provision regarding proof of citizenship still stands in question, the court's decision conveys a clear message that 21st century jurisprudence will not tolerate measures that polarize and segregate our communities. Now it's time for our federally elected officials to rise up with the moral fortitude to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
"It's time for Republicans and Democrats alike to come together and declare that this generation will not tolerate any legislative measure that tears us apart rather than bring us together."
While the court acknowledged Arizona's right as a sovereign state to address illegal immigration, the justices emphasized that its policies could not violate federal policies.
"If securing its territory in this fashion is not within the power of Arizona, we should cease referring to it as a sovereign state," argued Justice Antonin Scalia in the dissent, backed by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
"The national government has significant power to regulate immigration," countered Justice Anthony Kennedy of the majority opinion. "Arizona may have understandable frustrations with the problems caused by illegal immigration while that process continues, but the state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law."
The key provision upheld by the Supreme Court allows the police to check a person's immigration status if a "reasonable suspicion" exists that he or she is an illegal immigrant. However, one of the main provisions that was struck down included authorizing police to arrest immigrants without warrant for "probable cause" that they committed any public offenses, placing them in danger of deportation. The justices also ruled against making it a state crime for undocumented immigrants not to carry registration papers and other government identification, or to apply, solicit or perform work.
The court also noted that state officials will have several ways to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement, and will be obliged to respond to federal requests for information about when a particular non-citizen will be released from state custody, CNN reported.
The decision comes less than two weeks after President Barack Obama announced sweeping federal changes to U.S immigration law that will allow many young people living in the U.S. without proper documentation to gain temporary legalized status through work extensions.
"Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people," Obama stated, explaining that "it makes no sense" to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans and want to serve the country.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has long stood alongside illegal immigrants, also welcomed the Supreme Court decision.
"We stand in solidarity with our brother bishops in Arizona, as they prepare to respond to the implementation of this provision and its potential human consequences," wrote Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a statement on Monday.
Gomez, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, added, "The U.S. Catholic bishops across the nation will urge their state governments to not pursue laws such as in Arizona, but rather to pursue humane reform on the federal level. Humane enforcement of our nation's laws are part of any solution, but enforcement by itself, unjustly administered, only leads to abuses and family breakdown.
"The Church will continue to stand by immigrants and their families and seek justice on their behalf."