WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is questioning Arizona’s tough “show me your papers” law aimed at driving illegal immigrants out of the state, amid objections from the Obama administration that states have a limited role to play in immigration policy.
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The court’s review of the Arizona law includes a provision that requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if officers suspect he is in the country illegally. In the final argument of the term Wednesday, the justices will explore whether lower federal courts were right to block that and other key provisions.
The administration challenged the law in federal court soon after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed it two years ago. Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah passed similar laws, parts of which also are on hold pending the high court’s decision.
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The court hearing comes as presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney is trying to find a way to cut President Barack Obama’s strong support among Latino voters. Romney was drawn to the right on issues like immigration as he fought off other Republicans in state GOP primary elections. On Monday, Romney signaled he was considering a wide range of immigration policies, including a proposal from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would allow some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants a chance at visas to stay in the U.S.
A decision in the high-profile immigration case is expected in late June as both camps will be gearing up for the general election.
Other blocked provisions of the Arizona law require all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, make it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allow police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.
Arizona argues that with its 370-mile border with Mexico, it has paid a disproportionate price for illegal immigration. It says its 2010 law is consistent with federal immigration policy.
The administration says the law, and Arizona’s approach of maximum enforcement, conflict with a more nuanced federal immigration policy that seeks to balance national security, law enforcement, foreign policy, human rights and the rights of law-abiding citizens and immigrants.
Civil rights groups that back the administration say Arizona’s and the other states’ measures encourage racial profiling and ethnic stereotyping. California, New York and nine other states with significant immigrant populations support the Obama administration.
Florida, Michigan and 14 other states, many of which also are challenging Obama’s health care overhaul, argue that Arizona’s law does not conflict with federal law.
The case features a rematch of last month’s clash over health care between Obama Solicitor General Donald Verilli Jr. and Paul Clement, who had Verilli’s job in the George W. Bush administration. Clement is defending the Arizona law.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was Obama’s first solicitor general, is not taking part in the case, presumably because she worked on it while in the Justice Department.
The case is Arizona v. U.S., 11-182.
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