By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said he’s “pleased” with the U.S. Supreme Court decision knocking down parts of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, and he quickly used the decision to call for comprehensive immigration reform and to tout his own recent move to curb deportations.
“A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system — it’s part of the problem,” Obama said in a statement.
While the court’s ruling was not a clean sweep for the administration, it was strong enough for the president to claim victory and try to score some political points. Obama has been seeking to shore up his support among Latino voters, particularly those in the West. Part of that strategy is to keep up the talk about immigration policy — an issue that puts rival Mitt Romney in a tug-of-war between his base and a growing demographic.
“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws by focusing on our most important priorities like border security and criminals who endanger our communities, and not, for example, students who earn their education — which is why the Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this month that it will lift the shadow of deportation from young people who were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own,” Obama said.
“I will work with anyone in Congress who’s willing to make progress on comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our economic needs and security needs, and upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
Obama’s lengthy and detailed statement demonstrated his eagerness to keep the focus on immigration as long as possible. Romney’s reaction to the court’s ruling was six sentences and did not address the decision in detail.
“This represents yet another broken promise by this president,” Romney said. “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.”
Obama praised the court’s decision to strike down “key provisions” of the law, but the court did not knock down the part most reviled by activists: the so-called “show me your papers” rule. That provision requires local law enforcement officials to check the citizenship status of anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally.
In his statement, the president said he was “concerned about the practical impact” of that provision. Activists have expressed concern that the provision will lead to racial profiling by police.
“Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans, as the court’s decision recognizes,” Obama said. “I agree with the court that individuals cannot be detained solely to verify their immigration status. No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.”
The court’s ruling did place some restrictions on how that provision should be applied and suggested it could be vulnerable to a later court challenge, if abused by the state.
That remnant of the law might even be enough to keep Latino voters engaged on the issue — another possible plus for Obama.