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Mixed Message from Supreme Court on "Papers, Please" Arizona Law

Three parts of controversial law struck down, but key provision remains

Imagine driving around and being pulled over, not for any traffic infraction, or because of the condition of your car, but simply because of the color of your skin, the music you are playing, your facial features, or even the language you are speaking?

This is what some opponents of Arizona's S.B. 1070 say will happen with the law that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today to be constitutional on one provision, and unconstitutional on three others.

The law allows police officials in Arizona to determine the immigration status of everyone whom they come in contact with if they suspect that they are in the country illegally. But the mixed decision means this will continue to be an issue that affects nearly every region of California, especially those with an agricultural industry such Sonoma.

Proponents of the law say that it's necessary to combat a problem that perhaps is more intense in the border state and that is not sufficiently regulated by the federal government.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris praised today's U.S.  Supreme Court ruling for the parts of the law it voided, saying it "strikes down some of the most egregious components of Arizona's misguided law."

The three provisions struck down by the court were sections that allowed warrantless arrests of people believed to have committed deportable offenses; made it a state crime to be in the country illegally; and made it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to seek or hold jobs.

"I believe today's decision is an important step forward in setting aside policies that divide law enforcement from the communities we serve," she said.

But it's that fourth provision, that requires state and local police to determine the immigration status of people they arrest, that's the most contentious. Although the court said that provision could be applied only in cases of valid arrests, it also left the door open for it to be challenged later.

Julia Mass, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's San Francisco office, said California is among the states that have already rejected Arizona's approach.  "Californians already understand the importance of allowing police to focus on public safety instead of local immigration enforcement," she said.

Emphasizing the provision that was not struck down, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued a statement calling the ruling "a victory for the rule of law" and saying that "the heart of the law" can now be implemented.

President Obama said in a statement, "I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona's immigration law."  Yet he also said he is concerned about the impact of the provision left in place.

"What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said. "A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system -- it's part of the problem," he said.

Where do you stand on Arizona's tough approach on immigration? Should California follow suit? Why or why not? Is this law racially motivated?

Bay City News contributed to this report

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