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Court's ruling a detour from basic rights

By Ali Noorani, Special to CNN
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Tue June 26, 2012
Protesters demonstrate against Arizona's SB1070 law in front of the Supreme Court on April 25 in Washington.
Protesters demonstrate against Arizona's SB1070 law in front of the Supreme Court on April 25 in Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ali Noorani: Court's decision at odds with emerging consensus on immigration
  • He says provision on "show your papers" upheld; this will likely lead to racial profiling
  • But Iowa and Indiana, faith and political leaders urge fixing immigration system, he says
  • Noorani: States at fork in road -- follow Arizona and Alabama or protect basic rights?

Editor's note: Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an organization based in Washington that advocates for the value of immigrants. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- The nation is inching toward a new consensus on immigrants and America, but on Monday, the Supreme Court divided us.

The Supreme Court agreed with lower courts that three provisions of Arizona's SB 1070 law are prohibited because they violate the federal government's powers in setting immigration policy.

But a very important provision -- the pointy end of the SB 1070 sword -- was upheld by the court: Section 2(B), which requires law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of those they stop, arrest or detain if there is "reasonable suspicion" of unlawful presence.

Implementation of Section 2(B) will cause irreparable harm in an Arizona where, for example, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio wreaks havoc with his harassment of immigrants..

Brewer: Obama admin launched 'assault' on Arizona

Ali Noorani
Ali Noorani

The court ruled that it is too early to know whether Section 2(B) can be implemented in a way that will not lead to racial profiling, in violation of the Constitution. While the court was clear that Monday's opinion leaves open the possibility of other challenges to SB 1070 after the law goes into effect, residents of Arizona must first be profiled for the case to return to Washington.

The decision runs counter to the common ground that some surprising constituencies are finding on immigrants and immigration policy.

Winners, losers in immigration policy debate?

Over the past year, moderate and conservative business, law enforcement, faith and political leaders from the Mountain West to the Southeast have pulled together to acknowledge that state immigration laws are hurting their economies and communities. Joining Midwestern leadership from Iowa and Indiana, these leaders are demanding that the federal government address our broken immigration system.

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Key parts of immigration law rejected

And, in the past two weeks, a remarkable group of hundreds of evangelical leaders from across the political spectrum delivered a similar message to our political leaders in Washington.

It called for a bipartisan solution on immigration that "respects the God-given dignity of every person ... the rule of law," and "establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents."

A changing national mood on immigration?

But the Supreme Court's ruling sends a different message: Anyone who looks or sounds like an immigrant in Arizona is a stranger to be questioned, not welcomed.

Decades ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of whether states had the right to pick and choose which Americans could enjoy the basic rights we hold dear. It was not a matter of states' rights. It was a matter of civil rights.

While the court upheld the supremacy of federal immigration law Monday, its decision on Section 2(B) condones the discrimination and racial profiling inherent in Arizona's SB 1070 law.

It also reopens wounds in our national psyche, with Latinos, Asians and other new Americans bearing the brunt of an immigration debate that gnaws at our nation.

At a glance: Supreme Court decision on Arizona's immigration law

But as Justice Anthony Kennedy indicated in reading the majority opinion, this is not the final word on SB 1070.

As it goes into effect, anti-discrimination suits are pending, and the Justice Department must step up its own civil rights enforcement efforts. Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security must protect the basic rights of all and not cooperate with Arizona law enforcement officials who seek to detain and deport immigrants who are not a public safety or national security threat.

iReporter: Immigration law still racist

Meanwhile, legislatures across the country face a fork in the road. Do they follow Alabama, Georgia and other states that passed copycat laws? Or do they follow Mississippi and Florida, where cooler heads prevailed and halted legislation inspired by Arizona?

As legislatures wrestle with their decision, they should remember that SB 1070 and its Alabama sister, HB 56, proved to be economic disasters rather than growth strategies. Arizona lost $141 million in direct spending by convention attendees when conferences were canceled. Zealous implementation of Alabama's anti-immigrant law led to the arrest of a job-creating Mercedes-Benz manager who forgot his identification in his hotel room.

Immigration brings out the best in America, and better days lie ahead.

Eventually, when Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, America will be a better place because our elected leadership will help us treat each other as human beings with the dignity and love all human beings deserve.

With courageous political leaders, we can get to that place. But on Monday, the Supreme Court sent us on a detour.

Immigration fight changes Arizona, groups say

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ali Noorani.

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