Reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s mixed decision on Arizona’s controversial immigration law signals that much work remains before consensus can be reached over comprehensive immigration reform.
Much of that work needs to be done in the faith community – apart from legislative bills, lawsuits and political posturing – if we’re going to treat the undocumented with the respect and justice that the Bible requires.

The Supreme Court rejected yesterday three parts of the Arizona law and upheld a central component of SB 1070.

The court ruled that the state could not make it a crime for an undocumented immigrant either to go without legal papers or to seek employment. Nor could the state arrest a suspected undocumented immigrant without a warrant.

The court upheld the portion of the law known as “show me your papers.” That portion of the law requires state law enforcement to check the status of a detained person if the police have a reasonable suspicion that the detainee is undocumented.

Reaction from governors who have supported punitive immigration laws expressed support for the court’s ruling.

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is a victory for the rule of law,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “It is also a victory for the 10th Amendment and all Americans who believe in the inherent right and responsibility of states to defend their citizens. After more than two years of legal challenges, the heart of SB 1070 can now be implemented in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal acknowledged differences between the immigration laws in Georgia and Arizona.

“[I]t appears the court has upheld the major thrust of our state’s statute: That states have the right to assist in enforcing federal immigration law,” said Deal, a member of First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

“While Alabama’s anti-illegal immigration law has similar provisions as Arizona’s law, the laws are not identical … State laws on immigration are required because the federal government has refused to enforce its own immigration policies. The bottom line to Alabama’s law is this: if you live and work in the state, you must do so legally. The people of Alabama want a strong immigration law, and I will keep my commitment to uphold and enforce Alabama’s anti-illegal immigration law,” said Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

A member of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, Bentley said, “The core of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law remains … We are pleased that the Court recognizes the important roles of states in enforcing immigration laws.”

President Obama also found something to be pleased with in the ruling.

“What this decision makes unmistakably clear is that Congress must act on comprehensive immigration reform,” said the president. “A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system – it’s part of the problem.”

He 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.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid affirmed the Obama administration’s court challenge of the Arizona law.

Reid said he was “greatly concerned” that the portion of the law that was upheld “will lead to a system of racial profiling.”

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an anti-immigration group, issued a statement that called the court decision “an important victory.”

“The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear that state and local governments have an important role to play in enforcing federal immigration laws. Even if the Obama administration refuses to enforce most immigration laws, states have the power to deter and discourage illegal aliens from settling or remaining within their jurisdictions,” said Stein.

Anti-immigration bills in statelegislaturesin 2013 are predictable. Political posturing on immigration is certain. Future court challenges to state immigration laws are inevitable.

Educational initiatives in congregations on immigration are essential – if goodwill people of faith want to influence houses of faith and the public square for the common good.

Congregations have a unique witness and work related to the undocumented without regard to the politics of the issue. It’s time for intensive moral education.

RobertParham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friendhim on Facebook.

Editor’s Note: To order a documentary on faith and immigration, click here to learn more about “Gospel Without Borders” and to view clips.

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