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Supreme Court takes Arizona immigration law case in key test of federal power

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The Obama administration’s secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, knows the situation in Arizona well. In 2005, when she was Arizona’s governor, she declared a state of emergency because of escalating border violence and criticized the federal government for failing to effectively police the border.

“Arizona has repeatedly asked the federal government for more vigorous enforcement of the federal immigration laws, but to no avail,” Paul Clement, the Washington lawyer representing Arizona in the case, wrote in his brief urging the court to take up the state’s appeal.

In response to the perceived failure of the federal government to secure the border, Arizona legislators passed a state law to permit local and state officials to aggressively enforce immigration prohibitions. It was designed, in part, to encourage illegal immigrants to leave Arizona under a policy called “attrition through enforcement.”  The state statute mirrors provisions of federal immigration law, for example, making it a violation of Arizona law to fail to abide by a federal requirement that non-citizens at all times carry a green card or other government-issued registration papers.

SB 1070 also made it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to work as an employee or independent contractor in Arizona. It authorized state law enforcement officials to arrest without a warrant any person the officer had probable cause to believe committed a crime that would render them deportable from the US.

And in its most criticized provision, SB 1070 required state and local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone stopped or detained if the officer had reasonable suspicion the individual was present in the US illegally.

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