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NH Speaker calls Arizona ruling a road map

Senior Political Reporter

June 25. 2012 11:30PM

CONCORD - New Hampshire House Speaker William O'Brien said Monday that a Supreme Court ruling upholding a key provision of Arizona's controversial immigration law 'gives us a road map' for similar legislation to be enacted in the Granite State next year.

The court, by an 8-0 vote, upheld the Arizona law's most controversial provision, requiring police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop for any reason.

But in a split verdict, the justices also ruled that the three other provisions of Arizona's law that were challenged in court by the Obama administration went too far. The votes on those provisions were either 5-3 or 6-2, with the more conservative justices in dissent.

These three provisions required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowed police arrest of immigrants without warrants if officers believed they committed crimes that would make them deportable.

The New Hampshire House in February killed a bill that would have required state and local law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of anyone arrested or detained, and, if necessary, transfer custody of the detainee to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill was killed on a voice vote, upholding a House committee's 14-1 recommendation.

O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, who is an attorney, said that if the bill had passed, Monday's ruling would have allowed it to stand.

'The ruling said that local law enforcement can make an inquiry of someone they have a reasonable suspicion may have committed another crime as to their immigration status,' said O'Brien. 'That seems to me to be something you would expect a police officer to do.'

A road map

O'Brien said one reason the New Hampshire bill died this year was that the Supreme Court ruling was pending.

'This ruling gives us a road map of where we may legislate in this area,' O'Brien said. 'And I think that this certainly is a piece of legislation that makes sense for any state to look at, particularly a border state such as New Hampshire - that we ensure those who are reasonably suspected of committing crimes and are therefore subject to police detainment or police inquiry, that there also be an inquiry if they are here legally, if they have committed a federal crime.

'I would expect a bill to be filed and to get most Republican representatives' support next year, including mine,' he said.

'The federal government has fallen down on one of its primary responsibilities, and that's defending our borders,' said O'Brien. 'It is unfortunate, but not unexpected, that states would need to come forward and try to fill in that gap, and I think there is a recognition in this ruling that that is not only proper, but something that has to be done.'

He said the federal government involves itself in some areas that are unnecessary 'and even unconstitutional,' but, he said, 'This is one area where the federal government is mandated to act and it's fallen down completely.'

O'Brien said that President Barack Obama often uses an example of 'something about a man taking his children out for ice cream and has himself arrested for being suspected of being illegal. And that has nothing to do with this law, nor would it have anything to do with any other reasonable, constitutional law.

'I'm a liberty-oriented person,' said O'Brien. 'I want people to be able to go about their business and not have to be subject to unwarranted government inquiries or intrusion. But if you've been reasonably suspected of committing a crime, it would be expected that an inquiry be made.'

Feds still in charge

But a prominent local immigration attorney said he believed the sections of the Arizona law that were struck down outweighed the section that was upheld.

'On balance it was a good day for immigrants in the U.S. Supreme Court,' said George Bruno of Manchester, who said his firm's work includes trying to get visas 'to unify family members' and provide local businesses with overseas workers as well as defending people who are being deported.

Bruno, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said that overall, the court held that 'the federal government occupies the arena' on immigration.

He said the court upheld a part of the Arizona law that requires Arizona to detain a person to determine his or her immigration status.

Bruno said that in enforcing the section of the law that was upheld, police 'need to be very, very careful because there are a lot of American citizens that look like they are from other countries, and if you start arresting American citizens because of the way they look, police departments are going to be subject to a lot of false arrest complaints and lawsuits.

The court's ruling on that section of the Arizona law was 'disturbing,' Bruno acknowledged.

'If you are an American citizen traveling through Arizona and you are of Latino heritage, you can be arrested,' Bruno said.

Had the entire Arizona law been upheld, Bruno said, 'What I would have foreseen happening is the states entering the realm of immigration in a very aggressive way but also in a very confusing way, and with inconsistencies throughout the United States, causing the federal government to lose control of immigration policy.

'The takeaway from this decision is that the federal government is in charge of immigration policy in the United States, not the 50 states. And if a police department is going to arrest and detain somebody because they look Hispanic or as if they are an illegal alien, they'd better be very careful if they don't want to expose themselves to civil rights lawsuits and wind up paying out a lot of money for false arrests.'

Congressional reactions

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said: 'The Supreme Court decision is an important reminder that we need to come together to develop comprehensive immigration reform that ensures our borders are protected and the civil rights of every person are upheld.'

U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., said: 'States such as Arizona have acted because Washington hasn't. Congress needs to finally accept responsibility and start enforcing the law. Americans expect their government to protect the border. All sides, including Congress and the Obama administration, should come together and agree on a plan for keeping it secure.'

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte also weighed in: 'Today's decision underscores how critical it is that America achieve a long-term policy to secure our borders and reform our broken immigration system, which can only be accomplished if Congress and the Administration work together.'

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