A top Democrat vowed congressional action if the Supreme Court upholds Arizona's tough immigration law, as the court was to hear arguments on the law Wednesday.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing if the court upholds part or all of Arizona's immigration-enforcement law in its ruling, expected in June, he would introduce a bill expressly to prevent states from enacting their own immigration-enforcement laws.
"I believe it is simply too damaging to our economy, and too dangerous to our democracy, to have 50 different states doing 50 different things with regard to immigration policy," Schumer said in opening remarks before questioning former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who wrote and championed the controversial 2010 state law known as Senate Bill 1070, the nation's toughest law on illegal immigration, and was subsequently removed from office in a recall.
A federal law would be intended to trump any conflicting state laws and Congress has made clear its immigration laws "pre-empt states from creating their own immigration enforcement regimes," Schumer said.
"Should the Supreme Court choose to ignore ... plain and unambiguous statements of congressional intent and uphold SB 1070, I will introduce legislation which will reiterate that Congress does not intend for states to enact their own immigration enforcement schemes," he said.
Schumer questioned Pearce on the law, which expanded state police powers, letting officers ask about the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they believe they might be undocumented immigrants.
The law lets police make arrests without warrants if they have probable cause to believe suspects are deportable under federal law, and it makes it a state misdemeanor to not carry immigration papers.
Lower federal courts have blocked four of the law's most contentious provisions. Those are the provisions the Supreme Court will examine.
"What does an illegal immigrant dress like?" Schumer asked Pearce at one point, citing an Arizona police training manual that says how a person dresses might provide reasonable suspicion the individual is an illegal immigrant.
"Do illegal immigrants dress any differently than legal immigrants or American citizens?" Schumer asked.
"This is just a list of things to look for," Pearce replied, explaining it was one of many factors officers might consider before asking for identification.
But doesn't that lead to racial profiling? Schumer asked.
"Just the opposite," Pearce said. "As a civil libertarian ... I don't want a police state."
Pearce said SB 1070 would protect Arizona citizens from "the invasion of illegal aliens we face today," which he called "one of the greatest threats to our nation."
A study from the Pew Hispanic Center released Monday said a four-decade wave of Mexican immigration to the United States had receded, causing a historic reversal as more Mexicans appear to be returning to Mexico than entering the United States.
Experts cited by The Washington Post said a declining Mexican birthrate and other factors might make the reversal permanent.
Pearce said Arizona created its law because "the federal government has decided not to enforce the law," and he accused the Obama administration of "encouraging further lawbreaking" with its lawsuit challenging SB 1070's constitutionality.
Republican members of the subcommittee did not attend the hearing.
"The Supreme Court will decide the fate of Arizona's SB 1070 on constitutional grounds. Yet none of the majority's witnesses [at Tuesday's hearing] is an expert on the complex questions the court will consider," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the subcommittee's top Republican, said in a statement.
Schumer's hearing was "no more than election-year theater," Cornyn's statement said.
The court was to hear arguments Wednesday on whether SB 1070 should be allowed to take full effect or whether the law is pre-empted by federal immigration statutes and the Obama administration's enforcement priorities.
The Obama administration sued Arizona to block SB 1070's implementation, arguing the law impermissibly intrudes into the federal government's exclusive authority to enforce immigration laws.
The state argues SB 1070 is faithful to tough immigration standards Congress wrote into federal law. They say the Obama administration is selectively enforcing federal laws by focusing on finding and deporting convicted criminals while letting other undocumented immigrants remain in the country.
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