In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Monday decision to strike down much of SB 1070, the controversial Arizona immigration law, both Republicans and Democrats looked to spin the ruling for political advantage in the run-up to the November election.
“I am pleased that the Supreme Court has struck down key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law,” President Obama said in midday statement.
“We will continue to enforce our immigration laws by focusing on our most important priorities like border security and criminals who endanger our communities” he added, in what appeared to be an attempt to reassure American workers worried about losing jobs to illegal immigrants.
But Obama also made sure to emphasize his campaign-trail pitch to Latinos by holding out the promise of easier immigration.
“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,” said the statement, which also cited his June 15 announcement of an enforcement rollback for younger immigrants.
Republicans, however, were quick to slam Obama for failing to enforce immigration laws amid record unemployment.
“Once again we are reminded that President Obama has failed to keep his promise on immigration reform,” said a statement from the Republican National Committee.
“States have acted on their own to serve their people and enforce the law, but… this decision makes that job even more difficult, and it leaves Americans waiting for a plan the president promised to deliver years ago,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
“Obama and his administration have ignored our immigration laws and have encouraged more illegal immigration by their actions,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs the House’s judiciary committee.
“Worksite enforcement has plummeted 70%, allowing illegal immigrants to hold jobs while 13 million Americans are looking for work… we need a new President this January who will enforce immigration laws, not deliberately ignore them,” he added.
In their Monday ruling, the Supreme Court largely barred Arizona from establishing immigration-related penalties for illegal-immigrants or their employers, but did allow the state to check the legal residency of the people stopped for traffic and other offenses.
The court has already approved state laws requiring employers to use a federal database to verify prospective employees’ legal residency.
Democrats tried to convert the partial defeat by pushing Gov. Mitt Romney to talk about immigration issues, which are a delicate subject for Republicans at a time when the GOP is looking to court more Latino voters without alienating immigration hawks.
“With Romney in AZ today, will he have the guts to actually talk to rptrs abt immigration?” tweeted Bill Burton, who runs Priorities USA Action, an Obama-allied fundraising-and-advocacy group.
Immigration debates are a disadvantage for Romney, partly because a majority of Hispanic voters line up more closely with Obama on the issue.
Instead, Romney is trying to win support from swing-voting middle-class and blue-collar workers in the Midwest. Those voters often oppose easier immigration rules, especially amid today’s record unemployment numbers.
Following the decision, Romney released a cautious statement that endorsed states’ authority to exclude illegal immigrants, but provided little for Obama’s allies to attack.
“I believe that each state has the duty — and the right — to secure our borders and preserve the rule of law,” Romney said.
In contrast to Romney, Obama is happy to talk about immigration because he hopes to portray Romney as anti-Latino, and because he wants to spur Latino support in several swing-states, including Colorado, Virginia and Florida.
For example, Obama offered a de facto amnesty to roughly 1 million younger Latinos June 15, despite polls the indicate opposition to illegal-immigration by blue-collar workers and African-Americans.
Some progressive activists argue that popular support for immigration enforcement is driven by racism, partly because they wish to spur Latino turnout and support for Obama in November.
“We are disappointed that [the Supreme Court] did not strike down a key provision that amounts to state-sponsored racial profiling,” said a statement form Natalie Foster, the CEO of Rebuild the Dream, a left-wing advocacy organization.
Latino “families in Arizona and across our country continue to face un-American discrimination even as they work to build this country from the bottom up… Arizona’s SB 1070 is a reprehensible law, and it is only one of many hate-filled laws bubbling up across our country,” she claimed.
However, polls shows that most Latinos are primarily concerned about the economy. That’s where Romney has an advantage over Obama.
Still, easier immigration is seen as important to the Hispanic community, and continued controversy over immigration issues is sometimes portrayed in Latino media and by Latino advocates as sign of dislike for all Latinos. That sensitivity gives Obama and his allies every incentive to keep the issue in the public’s eye.