Supreme Court Set to Rule on Arizona Immigration Law

By JESS BRAVIN And MIRIAM JORDAN

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide the fate of Arizona’s tough anti-immigration law this week, in a ruling likely to affect the national debate over immigration ahead of the November elections.

The court could strike down the challenged provisions as an intrusion on federal sovereignty, uphold them as a legitimate public-security effort by the state, or take a piece-by-piece approach that could leave both sides claiming victory. Some justices at arguments in April suggested they weren’t troubled by a section of the Arizona law

That section was one of four at issue before the high court. The others make it a crime for immigrants without work permits to seek employment, make it a crime for immigrants to fail to carry registration documents, and authorize the police to arrest any immigrant they believe has committed a deportable offense.

Lower federal courts blocked those provisions from taking effect after Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the measure in 2010. The courts agreed with the Justice Department that they undermined federal authority over immigration.

The law is part of the broader national debate over immigration, which heated up last week when President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney spoke before a group of Hispanic officials.

Mr. Obama touted his announcement the previous week that his administration will stop deporting many young illegal immigrants, while Mr. Romney used his speech to soften his tone on immigration and call for a long-term overhaul that would allow more newcomers to receive green cards. The candidates are both stepping up their appeals to the fast-growing bloc of Hispanic voters.

Democrats have accused the Arizona law’s supporters of having an anti-immigrant agenda, while the law’s mostly Republican backers say they want to secure the nation’s borders.

A supporter of Arizona’s tough anti-immigration measures stood outside the Supreme Court in April when justices reviewed the law.

Arizona’s illegal-immigration measure, officially titled the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act and known as SB 1070, reflected outrage among tea-party conservatives over what they considered lax enforcement by federal immigration authorities.

Similar laws were introduced in other states, including Alabama, which recently drew unwelcome attention when executives from German and Japanese car makers that the state had pushed to bring there were arrested for failing to produce immigration papers.

During arguments before the Supreme Court in April, justices suggested it was acceptable for Arizona to make rules in areas where Congress had contemplated an enforcement role for states. They observed that federal law already requires U.S. immigration officials to answer questions from state police about a person’s status.

Several said they had trouble seeing constitutional problems in a blanket state policy encouraging police to check the status of people who were stopped if those people looked as if they might be in the country illegally.

But the justices were more skeptical of any state effort to pile penalties on illegal immigrants beyond what Congress envisioned.

Congress has been in a long stalemate over immigration, with proposals for a broad overhaul getting little traction. That has led Mr. Obama to use his executive powers to make some changes.

Following the Supreme Court arguments, the Obama administration announced illegal immigrants wouldn’t be placed in deportation proceedings merely for a traffic violation, part of continuing efforts to devote resources to deporting foreigners who have committed serious crimes.

Then on June 15, Mr. Obama said many young illegal immigrants would be allowed to legally live and work in the U.S., sidestepping Congress and using what his administration called prosecutorial discretion.

Under the new rules, an estimated 800,000 young people brought to the U.S. as children could apply for work permits and enjoy a safe haven from deportation. Unlike with the Dream Act, a bill backed by Mr. Obama that has stalled in Congress, they wouldn’t be eligible for citizenship.

The debate comes as Hispanics continue to grow as a share of the electorate, particularly in battleground states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida. Mr. Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote in 2008. Polls this year have shown the president with a similar lead, but Mr. Romney is making a strong effort to close the gap.

this article appeared on WSJ print edition  on 6/25/12

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