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U.S. Supreme Court to Weigh Arizona Immigration Law

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to take up Arizona's controversial law cracking down on undocumented immigrants through stronger local police enforcement.

Although Arizona's law does not address school enrollment of undocumented children, the high court's eventual decision may well have implications for the Alabama law that, for now at least, requires schools to check the citizenship status of newly enrolled students.

The court accepted Arizona's appeal of a federal court ruling that blocked its law, known as S.B. 1070, which deals with police, employment, and identification issues..

"The fiscal burdens imposed by the disproportionate impact of illegal immigration on Arizona are daunting," the state argues in its appeal in Arizona v. United States (Case No. 11-182). "Arizona spends several hundred million dollars each year incarcerating criminal aliens and providing education and health care to aliens who entered and reside in the country in violation of federal law."

There are four provisions of S.B. 1070 at issue. One requires the police making a stop or an arrest of an individual to determine that person's immigration status if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" of illegality. Another provision makes it a crime under Arizona law for a person to intentionally fail to obtain and carry legal immigrant papers while in the state. The third makes it a misdemeanor for an undocumented alien to work or apply for a job in the state. And the fourth allows police to detain without a warrant any person the officer reasonably believes has a committed a crime that would subject him or her to deportation.

Two lower federal courts blocked the provisions from taking effect. The Obama administration argued in the Supreme Court that the lower courts ruled correctly and that it would be premature for the justices to take up the Arizona law at this point.

"Several pending cases challenge new immigration-related state laws, and this case was the first to be decided by any court of appeals," U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said in the administration's brief. "But these state laws are not carbon copies; they take various different approaches to the subjects S.B. 1070 addresses, and they address numerous other subjects that this preliminary injunction does not, such as housing, contracting, education, and transportation."

In both the Arizona and Alabama cases (as well as in cases involving other states' laws), the administration argues that the state immigration measures are "pre-empted" by federal law. (The administration's legal arguments against the Alabama law, including its school provision, can be found here, and I blogged on it here.)

The challenged Arizona provisions "do not represent an effort to cooperate with the federal government in enforcing federal immigration law," Verrilli said in the brief. "Instead, they are designed to establish Arizona's own immigration policy, 'attrition through enforcement.'"

The Supreme Court will likely hear arguments in the case in April, with a decision by the end of June. Justice Elena Kagan is not participating in the case, evidently because she had some involvement in it while she was solicitor general early in the Obama administration

With only eight justices particiipating, a 4-4 tie would mean the lower court rulings blocking the provisions would be undisturbed, though further legal proceedings would ensue on the merits of the state law.

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