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Racial profiling fears surface among bishops after high court ruling on Ariz. immigration law

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed "hope and caution" toward the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that strikes down most provisions of the controversial Arizona law but leaves standing what some say is the heart of the law.

The 5-3 decision ruled the state had overstepped its authority by making it a state crime for immigrants to not register with the federal government, or for illegal immigrants to seek work or hold a job. It also threw out a provision in the law that would allow police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

The justices stood united, however, in unanimously upholding what some consider to be the centerpiece of the legislation: the so-called "show me your papers" provision that requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested who they suspect is an illegal immigrant.

U.S. bishops fear this provision could lead to racial profiling, and were encouraged that the high court did not rule it constitutional.

"… The implementation of this provision could lead to the separation of families and undermine the Church’s ability to minister to the immigrant population," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, in a press release.

However, Gomez praised the rest of the ruling and the message it sent to any other states considering going over the head of the federal government and implementing immigration policy. Variations of the Arizona law have been passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.

"The U.S. Catholic bishops across the nation will urge their state governments to not pursue laws such as in Arizona, but rather to pursue humane reform on the federal level," he said. "Humane enforcement of our nation’s laws are part of any solution, but enforcement by itself, unjustly administered, only leads to abuses and family breakdown."

The USCCB had previously filed a friend of the court brief in the case.

Only eight of the high court’s nine justices voted on the case since Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had been involved in the case when she served as solicitor general.