The standoff over enforcement of the nation's immigration laws heated up today when the Obama administration announced that while the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states can investigate a suspect's legal status, federal officials won't necessarily cooperate when problems are found.
According to the Washington Times, Obama's Department of Homeland Security announced it was suspending existing agreements with Arizona authorities over enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The agreements gave state officers the authority to uphold the federal standard.
The report said Obama officials have directed federal authorities "to decline many of the calls reporting illegal immigrants that the Homeland Security Department may get from Arizona police."
Under the Obama administration, Arizona, frustrated by the federal government's refusal to tackle the immigration problem, simply adopted its own law allowing state officers to enforce the federal standard.
The Supreme Court's ruling today rejected three of the law's main provisions, including one that would ban illegals from working and another that would require them to carry papers indicate their status.
But the ruling affirmed a key provision that allows the state to investigate the legal status of suspects who are confronted by police under various circumstances.
The White House move appears designed to blunt that impact of the Supreme Court's decision, as any determination that a suspect is an illegal alien would have nominal impact if the state was banned from providing any penalty and the White House refused to do so.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who once sought the GOP nomination for president, pinpointed the issue.
"I commend the state of Arizona for enforcing immigration laws while the federal government fails to do their job to secure the border and put an end to illegal immigration," she said in reaction to the Supreme Court opinion. "This administration has shown contempt for the rule of law, which is why states are taking action. Recently, this president proudly announced his decision to bypass the Constitution by skirting Congress and ignoring federal immigration laws.
"By this president refusing to uphold the law, he is failing the American people. The states, like Arizona, are forced to handle the costs of illegal immigration on their own; without proper support from the federal government. This is an impossible burden and I call on the White House to start upholding immigration laws. Furthermore, the White House must support our states instead of suing them in federal court," she said.
The Times report, however, said one unidentified federal official said: "We will not be issuing detainers on individuals unless they clearly meet our defined priorities. … We do not plan on putting additional staff on the ground in Arizona."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the ruling a victory for the state, and officials said police statewide can begin immediately to check on the immigration status of suspects.
However, without the ability to impose a penalty, the state will be depending on the federal government to enforce immigration laws.
Just last week, Obama announced he would instruct federal agencies to simply stop departing most illegal immigrations under age 30 who met a couple of qualifications.
Both sides of the dispute over the law, SB1070, claimed victory, but analysts expect more legal challenges to develop.
Obama said today in a statement the issue is about race.
"No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like," he said.
In comments from the bench, Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented, pointed out Arizona must sustain the ongoing economic and social blows of illegal immigration without a solution at hand.
Scalia addressed Obama's announcement that he would instruct federal agencies to quit deporting illegal immigrants under age 30.
"The president said at a news conference that the new program is 'the right thing to do' in light of Congress' failure to pass the administration's proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind."
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said Arizona simply was trying to protect its own citizens from invasion.
"I agree that the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration," he said. "Without a uniform rule for immigration, America may have 50 different, chaotic standards. However, our politicians in Washington, D.C., must get beyond campaign rhetoric to a rational immigration policy that acknowledges that we are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws."
The American Civil Rights Union, which had supported Arizona's argument, said it should be clear that states have a right to defend themselves when the federal government refuses to enforce the law.
"Arizona is ground zero for the illegal immigration tidal wave, with over one-third of all illegal border crossings in the nation in that state alone," said ACRU General Counsel Peter Ferrara.
The wave includes gang members in Mexican drug cartels and criminals fleeing their home countries, he said.
"If the federal government won't do the job of enforcing our borders, we believe Arizona and other states have the constitutional right to defend it themselves," said Susan A. Carleson, chairman of the ACRU.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said the acknowledgment by the Supreme Court that states can investigate illegal aliens "took an important step forward in permitting states to protect their borders and citizens."
"The justices upheld a key provision of the Arizona immigration law that gives police authority to check the immigration status of a person while enforcing other laws if 'reasonable suspicion' exists that the person is in the United States illegally," he said.
"While we're disappointed the high court failed to uphold all provisions of Arizona SB1070, we're very pleased that the high court found this key provision constitutional, clearing the way for Arizona to continue its work to secure its borders and protect its citizens. Today's decision is certain to result in more legal challenges in Arizona and across the country. We will continue to support constitutional efforts by states to protect their borders and citizens."