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In Supreme Court’s immigration ruling, Jewish groups see progress but have concerns

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Most Jewish groups who have weighed in on Arizona’s controversial immigration law saw progress in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to repeal three of the law’s four parts, but had concerns that law enforcement officials would still be allowed to check the legal immigration status of people they detain.

The high court on Monday invalidated the provisions authorizing police to arrest illegal immigrants without warrant if there was probable cause that they committed an offense that made them eligible for deportation; making it an Arizona state crime if immigrants did not carry registration papers or some sort of government identification; and forbidding immigrants unauthorized to work in the country to apply, solicit or perform work.

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was among the groups that welcomed the repeals but had reservations with the court’s decision.

“Though we view the positive part of this ruling as another step in the advancement of immigrant rights — forwarded recently by President Obama’s executive order halting deportations of Dream Act eligible individuals — we remain extremely concerned about the potential for racial profiling as a result of today’s decision,” Mark Hetfield, the interim president and CEO of HIAS, said in a news statement.

The law, passed in April 2010, was meant primarily to deal with illegal immigrants coming from Mexico, according to proponents of the measure at the time of its passage. They also noted that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had issued an executive order establishing a training program on how to avoid racial profiling when implementing the new rules.

In April, HIAS coordinated a letter to Brewer, a Republican, and also joined more than 100 other faith-based organizations and civil rights groups in submitting an amicus brief that urged the Supreme Court to strike down Arizona’s law.

In response to today’s decision, Tucson immigration attorney Mo Goldman told the AJP, “This is a very remarkable time we’re living in. We’re witnessing a chess match between the state and the administration.

“The fact that individuals can be stopped to have their immigration status checked puts law enforcement in a tough spot,” said Goldman.

The Supreme Court decision “puts states on notice,” he said. “If there is racial profiling there’s going to be serious litigation.”

Prior to the court decision, he explained, Arizona law enforcement would consistently call the  Department of Homeland Security to pick up a suspected undocumented immigrant. But on Monday, Goldman received word that Homeland Security “will not send officers to pick up someone suspected of being undocumented unless that individual is a convicted criminal or has been previously deported.”

“What does this do to the state’s resources?” asked Goldman. “The state can’t deport people. Is it a good use of the taxpayers’ money for the state to decide what to do with a suspected illegal immigrant?

“Brewer says [the decision] is a win. Obama says it’s a win. Nobody wins but the lawyers who will make lots of money from litigation,” said Goldman. “Both the state and undocumented immigrants will lose.”

Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman and national chair Robert Sugarman in a news statement called the ruling a “mixed outcome.”

“One of our primary concerns has been that Arizona’s law would exacerbate fear in immigrant communities and, in particular, make victims and witnesses of hate crimes reluctant to speak with police,” they wrote.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, noted in a statement that RAC welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn most provisions in the law, but called on Arizona to urge caution on the remaining part.

“We urge Arizona and the lower courts to endorse the principle that all women, men and children deserve equal protection under the law, as appearance offers no grounds on which to assume the legal status of an individual,” Saperstein wrote. “Engaging in racial profiling only jeopardizes the safety of entire communities, as members of immigrant communities fearful of being profiled are discouraged from cooperating with law enforcement on issues.”

Nancy Kaufman, the CEO of the National Council for Jewish Women, wrote in a news statement that the high court’s ruling “is a welcome step toward ending the efforts by state legislatures to superimpose their own vindictive legislative regime on federal immigration law.”

AJP Associate Editor Sheila Wilensky contributed to this article.