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Supreme Court may consider Arizona immigration case

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Chicago Tribune
Published:
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court, already poised to decide one hot-button political issue during an election year, also may tackle the Obama administration's challenge to Arizona's law requiring its police to check the immigration status of people who are stopped.
At issue is not only who can enforce the immigration laws but also what the policy should be for the millions of illegal immigrants living and working in the United States. Obama's team has targeted for deportation illegal immigrants who are criminals, smugglers and repeat border crossers, not those who obey the criminal laws.
Last year, the administration went to court in Phoenix to block Arizona's stepped-up enforcement law, known as SB 1070. Obama's lawyers argued the power to enforce the immigration laws rested exclusively with the federal government, and they won rulings that put Arizona's law on hold.
But Gov. Jan Brewer appealed to the high court and urged the justices to revive the law. The federal enforcement system is "broken," Arizona's lawyers argued, and states should be accorded the "police power" to enforce the law within their own borders.
The justices met Friday to consider the issue, and they may announce Monday whether they will hear Arizona's appeal.
The court already has agreed to decide whether the Obama health care law is constitutional. If it takes the immigration case as well, both decisions likely would come down by late June, just months before the presidential nominating conventions.
Since taking office, Obama's administration has deported a record number of illegal immigrants, and it has gone after employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. At the same time, its lawyers have emphasized that "mere unlawful presence" in this country is a civil violation but not a crime.
A federal versus state clash over immigration would be one of the most significant decisions of 2012.
A poll by the Pew Research Center showed strong support for the Arizona law, especially among white voters. By a 61 percent to 34 percent margin, those polled in February approved of the law. Whites backed it by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, while Latinos disapproved by the same 3-to-1 margin.
In addition to opposing the Arizona law, the Obama administration has contested similar immigration enforcement laws in other states.
American voters are closely split over what should be done about illegal immigration, Pew reported last month. When given a choice between "stronger enforcement" or a "path to citizenship," 29 percent said they favored enforcement, 24 percent said a "path to citizenship," and 43 percent said both should be given equal priority.
When asked whether students who are illegal immigrants should be eligible for in-state college tuition, the respondents were almost evenly split: 48 percent said they should be eligible and 46 percent disagreed.
"Americans really are of two minds on immigration. Republicans have more fire in the belly for stronger enforcement. But politically, it is also a very big issue because of Hispanics," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.
Obama's lawyers would prefer for the Supreme Court to steer clear of the issue. "There is no reason ... to step in now," Solicitor General Donald Verrilli advised the court last month. He insisted Arizona had no right to "pursue its own policy" for stopping and detaining people who are suspected of being illegal immigrants.
If the high court turns down Arizona's appeal, it will be a significant political victory for the administration. But if the court votes to hear the case in the spring, it will elevate illegal immigration as a political issue.
The immigration case, like the health care case, pits Republican-led states against the Democratic administration. It also features the same lawyer. Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush, is representing the 26 Republican-led states that say the health care law should be struck down as unconstitutional. He also represents Arizona in its bid to revive its immigration law.
Story tags » ImmigrationHispanic

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