Supreme Court Case Could Uphold Federal Government’s Authority

By EFE & EGP News Service

U.S. Supreme Court justices yesterday questioned the federal government’s arguments that it alone has authority to enforce immigration laws during a hearing on the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, known as SB 1070.

During the hearing, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, both conservatives, seemed to support Arizona’s position that SB 1070 only seeks to complement the federal government’s immigration policy.

SB 1070 makes it a criminal offense, for the first time, for undocumented immigrants to be in a state. The crux of the case revolves around whether Arizona officials went too far in usurping the powers of the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

But justices on both sides of the aisle seemed to be having a hard time understanding the federal government’s argument that it does usurp federal law.
Roberts said it seems the Obama Administration’s opposition to SB 1070 is more about where people in the country illegally are.

“It seems to me the federal government just doesn’t want to know who’s here illegally,” the chief justice said.

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said it’s the federal government’s responsibility to set immigration policy, and Arizona’s law violates that authority.

“What does the government get, if it does not allow states to defend their borders,” Scalia argued. He took issue with the argument that “the state has no power to close its borders to people who have no right to be there.”

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, one of two woman and only Latina on the Supreme Court, also peppered both sides with questions, but claiming confusion, she hinted that the federal government’s argument against the state “is not selling very well.”

She said the federal government could decline to pick up immigrants, and seemed to be more concerned with the length of time suspected undocumented immigrants are detained.

“As I understand it, when individuals are arrested and held for other crimes, often there’s an immigration check that most states do without this law, she said.
“What I see as critical is the issue of how long,” she said. Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, both conservatives, also seemed to be concerned that a person could be detained for longer than in other criminal cases while their immigration status is being checked.

Throughout his presentation, Arizona Attorney Paul Clement said the federal government has not done enough to control the illegal immigration problem, and states, like Arizona, are entitled to assume those tasks.

In response, Verilli argued, that among other things, SB 1070 could lead not only to mass imprisonment, but also affect bilateral relations with Mexico.
He noted, as an example that between 60 and 70 percent of people deported from U.S. are from Mexico, a country the U.S. seeks close cooperation from.

“We must enforce our laws in a manner satisfactory to Mexico?” Scalia asked rhetorically, in one of his exchanges with Verilli.

Only eight of the nine justices participated in Wednesday’s hearing because Justice Elena Kagan will abstain from ruling, she served as Solicitor General when the same law was challenged in lower courts last year.

Upon leaving the hearing, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said she was optimistic that her state will win the case, but she did not rule out that the law, if upheld, could open the door to the incarceration of approximately 400,000 undocumented immigrants estimated to live in her state.

In addition to Brewer, the crowded audience included senior White House officials, SB 1070’s author, former Republican Senator Russell Pearce, and Kris Kobach, the architect of laws against illegal immigration and a prominent adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Just like the first hearing on SB 1070, thousands of activists along the border and on the steps of the court Wednesday held vigils and protests to demand the law be struck down. Supporters of SB1070 also demonstrated outside the Supreme Court.

Immigrant rights activists held a vigil and press conference Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, in advance of the arguments.

They said the landmark case could set a precedent regarding to what extent individual states can create immigration enforcement laws.

“We are here today because we want the American public to know that immigrant communities are watching the Supreme Court debate against the anti-constitutional Arizona law SB 1070. We are here today because we stand for one law, not 50 state immigration laws. We are here today because we stand for equality, not discrimination,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHILRA).

Salas said allowing states to create immigration enforcement laws legalizes racial profiling by giving local law enforcement the right to arrest Latinos or Asians, in particular, who may be perceived as being foreign born.

“The constitution declares that any person living within its borders is protected by the law of the land, and for states that immigration law is in the hands of the federal government… the Supreme Court must stand by the constitution, must stand by the spirit and values of America: equality, justice and equal protection. They must strike it [SB1070] down,” Salas said.

The Obama administration has two cases before the Supreme Court, one to defend the health care reform and the other to repeal SB 1070. Both were enacted in 2010 and will likely impact the presidential election this year.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on both cases by the end of June, five months before the General Election on November 6.

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April 26, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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