President Barack Obama and some of his top Democratic allies in Congress claimed victory Monday after the Supreme Court struck down key parts of a controversial Arizona law aimed at curbing undocumented immigration. But the Justices' 5-3 ruling gave Republicans something to cheer by letting stand — for now — a core provision that allows police to check the immigration status of someone they stop.
"I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona's immigration law," Obama said in a statement. "What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform. A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system — it's part of the problem."
But the president also said he was "concerned about the practical impact" of what critics have dubbed the "papers, please" provision. "We must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans," he said.
Polls show immigration far behind the sputtering economy on the list of worries most pressing in voters' minds. But Obama has highlighted his approach to the issue as he steps up his efforts to win over and energize Latinos, a critical part of the coalition that powered his historic 2008 campaign. The president is expected to crush Mitt Romney among Latino voters, who could decide the outcome in a handful of critical battleground states.
Romney, who was due to attend a fundraiser in Arizona, said in a statement that the ruling highlighted the need for "a national immigration strategy" and accused Obama of having "failed to provide any leadership on immigration."
"I believe that each state has the duty -- and the right -- to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law, particularly when the federal government has failed to meet its responsibilities," Romney said, essentially contradicting the high court's findings. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in the majority opinion, declared that the federal government's "power to determine immigration policy is well settled." He went on: "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."
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the court's decision, calling the Arizona law "not just ill-advisd but also unconstitutional," and blamed Republicans for stalling efforts to overhaul what all sides agree is a broken immigration system. Reid also took a big whack at Romney.
"It is disturbing that Mitt Romney called the unconstitutional Arizona law a 'model' for immigration reform," he said, referring to the Republican candidate's comments in a February 22 debate. "Laws that legalize discrimination are not compatible with our nation's ideals and traditions of equal rights, and the idea that such an unconstitutional law should serve as a 'model' for national reform is far outside the American mainstream."
( Asked in that debate about Arizona's tough approach, Romney had pledged to drop federal lawsuits against states that take similar approaches. But aides said that his description of the state as "a model" referred to its use of E-Verify, a federal database employers can use to check work eligibility).