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Leaving Arizona? After Supreme Court ruling some illegal immigrants may go, others vow to stay

Although the Supreme Court only upheld the 'show your papers' part of Arizona's controversial immigration law, some undocumented immigrants worry about being stopped while out in public. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down much of Arizona’s strict anti-illegal immigration law but upheld one of its most controversial provisions has some illegal aliens on edge. But will it prompt them to pack their bags and leave the state anytime soon?

Some may leave but more likely than not most will stay put, say immigration-rights activists and illegal immigrants contacted by msnbc.com.

“The main thing we’re focusing on is advocating for families not to flee Arizona, to stay here and help fight for their rights to be here,” said Opal Tometi, a member of the board of the Puente Movement, an Arizona-based immigrant rights group, and national organizer for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration


Leticia Ramirez, a mother of three who lives in the Phoenix area and says she is undocumented, said the mixed Supreme Court ruling could make day-to-day life harder for her family but they plan to stay anyway.

Ross D. Franklin / AP

Members of Promise Arizona, from left, Leonila Martinez, Patricia Rosas and Gustavo Cruz, react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Arizona's controversial immigration law in Phoenix on Monday.

“If we fight together it’s going to be better for us than just one person fighting  for all the community,” she said.

The Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070 but said the state could go forward with a much-debated portion requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest for other reasons if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally. Even there, though, the justices said the "show me your papers” provision could be subject to additional legal challenges and advised states not to apply the law in such a sweeping way that it would become unconstitutional. They also said officers can't arrest people on minor immigration charges.

Gov. Brewer: 'Heart' of immigration law proven constitutional

Tometi said the provision requiring police to try to determine the immigration status of a person stopped for other reasons might deter some undocumented immigrants from coming to Arizona. But she says it’s unlikely to lead to full-scale departures from the state, especially for families that have been in Arizona illegally for years -- and even decades.

”I think that people will stay,” she said.

“What we’ve decided as a community in Arizona is that we’re going to do community organizing and defend our families, whether they’re documented or undocumented,” Tometi said. 

Both sides declare victory in court's immigration ruling

She said activists are establishing “barrio defense committees“-- volunteer neighborhood committees that provide a network of support services for people who might be swept up in detention or deportation proceedings.

Ramirez, who said she has been in the U.S. for 18 years, said the ruling will make routine day-to-day activities “difficult” for her family.

“We’re not going to be living a normal life anymore. We’ll be afraid when we get stopped,” she said.

“We’re not going to be able to take my kids to soccer practice, to soccer games, to movies, to the mall because I’m afraid we're going to be stopped. I don’t want to put my kids in that situation. A lot of people won’t even want to take their kids to school because they’re afraid of being stopped.”

She said while some illegal immigrants might leave, she’s determined to stay.

“Leaving Arizona leaving is not going to resolve anything,” Ramirez said. “I would say to my community: Stay so we can fight together. People want to raise their kids and have a family. They’re going to risk it.”

Read the Supreme Court decision on SB 1070

Fernando Lopez, 21, says he experienced the provision firsthand -- being arrested after an Arizona Highway patrolman asked for his papers. The Mexican national living in Phoenix is fighting deportation and says even if he hadn't been caught he'd still fight to stay in the U.S.

"My brother left two years ago when the law was passed," he told msnbc.com, but "running is not the solution."

"The least we can do is organize as a community," said Lopez, who does acknowledge it's easier for him to stay since he's not married and has no children. 

The Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, an organization of immigrant youth and their supporters, said the section that was upheld is "conducive to racially profiling citizens, legal residents and undocumented immigrants."

"We will continue to educate our community on how we can overcome the implementation of this section so the impact to the people in our state is minimized," the group said in a statement.

"We encourage the community to stand firm, to not panic, and to stay informed."

Natalie Cruz, 24, also plans to stay and hopes the DREAM Act will give her some protection while she studies in Phoenix. Among her family, one aunt said she'd return to Mexico if the court upheld the police provision, Cruz said, but others plan to stay.

That's not to say life will be the same. "It is going to change how I do things -- like driving," Cruz said.

Jim Gilchrist, founder and president of the Minuteman Project, a California-based group that advocates tough enforcement of immigration laws, says the Supreme Court opinion is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on illegal immigrants in Arizona.

While local police can inquire about the legal status of someone they stop for probable cause for something else, “that’s apparently all they can do,” Gilchrist said.

“It doesn’t put any serious teeth into enforcing immigration laws,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says even though the agency expects a lot more calls from Arizona police to check people's immigration status, deportations won't necessarily increase because federal officials are only targeting those who have been convicted of a felony or present a securty threat.

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