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The U.S. Senate’s third-ranking Democrat said he will push legislation to block Arizona’s illegal-immigration crackdown if the Supreme Court upholds the state law.
Proponents and opponents of the Arizona law, which is being challenged by the Obama administration, sparred over its legality at a Senate hearing today, one day before the court hears the case.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York said his measure will make clear that Congress doesn’t intend for states to enact their own immigration enforcement strategies. He said it will allow states to apprehend suspected illegal immigrants only as part of an agreement overseen by the federal government.
“States like Arizona and Alabama will no longer be able to get away with saying they are simply helping the federal government to enforce the law,” he said during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on state and local enforcement of immigration laws. Those states are “writing their own laws and knowingly deploying untrained officers with a mission of arresting anyone and everyone who might fit the preconceived profile of an illegal immigrant,” he said.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow on whether Arizona’s law, known as Senate bill 1070, goes too far by requiring police to check the status of people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally, and to arrest those they consider eligible to be deported.
The Obama administration contends that Arizona has gone beyond cooperation with the federal immigration law and is trying to implement its own policy.
With Republicans holding the House majority, Schumer’s proposal would have little chance of becoming law. Democrats who control the Senate could hold a vote to get senators on record on the issue during this election year.
At today’s hearing, the former Arizona state senator who sponsored Senate bill 1070 said states have the right to enforce such measures to control the costs and crime related to illegal immigration.
“The invasion of illegal aliens we face today -- convicted felons, drug cartels, gang members, human traffickers and even terrorists -- pose one of the greatest threats to our nation in terms of political, economic and national security,” said former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a Republican. He was recalled from office in a November 2011 election, losing to a fellow Republican who opposed his immigration policy.
Pearce said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks might have been prevented if immigration laws had been adequately enforced.
Former U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini, a Democrat who represented Arizona from 1977 to 1995, said the state law has been a failure, resulting in harassment of Hispanics. He said the state has overstepped its constitutional boundaries.
“I believe it is ill-founded, mean-spirited and divisive,” DeConcini said. “In addition, it requires state and local law enforcement to carry out immigration responsibilities that lie with the federal government.”
A study released today by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, said the migration of undocumented immigrants from Mexico is abating. During the past four decades, 12 million immigrants came to the U.S. from Mexico, most illegally, the report said.
Net Mexican migration to the U.S. has stopped and may have reversed, according to the report, which cited such factors as the weak U.S. job and housing construction markets, a decline in Mexico’s birth rate and escalating risks associated with illegal entry to the U.S.
The immigration issue is taking on additional importance in an election year, as Republicans risk losing the support of Hispanic voters in such states as Florida and New Mexico after promoting a get-tough approach.
In a decision that underscored the heightened tensions between the parties over immigration policy, Republicans boycotted today’s Judiciary panel hearing. The only two lawmakers present were Schumer and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democratic leader.
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, who serves on the panel and is the No. 2 Republican Senate leader, said afterward Republicans skipped it because Democrats didn’t seek any input on witnesses. He dismissed the hearing as a “political sideshow.”
Congress hasn’t overhauled immigration policy since the mid-1980s. The Senate last voted on a major immigration measure in December 2010, when some Democrats joined Republicans to block a Democratic bill, known as the Dream Act, that would have enabled people who were brought to the U.S. illegally before age 16 and stayed for at least five years to obtain legal residency after going to college or serving in the military.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has offered a compromise version of the Dream Act. It would give such immigrants a non-immigration visa if they complete high school and don’t have a criminal record. Rubio is seen as a possible vice presidential choice for his party’s presumptive presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.
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