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US Supreme Court to Tackle Illegal Immigration

Lawyer walks down steps of US Supreme Court in Washington D.C. (2011 file photo)
Lawyer walks down steps of US Supreme Court in Washington D.C. (2011 file photo)

The political and legal battle over how to deal with illegal immigration in the United States will be front and center before the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The high court will consider whether an Arizona state law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants conflicts with the federal government’s role in policing national borders.

SB 1070 requires police to check the immigration status of people they detain and who they suspect may be in the country illegally. The law also makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to work in the state.

The Obama administration has blocked several key provisions of the Arizona law in lower federal courts, asserting the responsibility to police the national borders rests with the federal government and Congress, not with individual states.


Opponents of the law in Arizona also argue the statute has had a polarizing effect in the state.

“I am a fourth generation Mexican-American from Arizona and I have never seen such division in our state," said Petra Falcon, a member of an activist group known as Promise Arizona, "and also the disbelief, anger and fear when SB 1070 [the bill] was signed [into law].”

Opponents also include leading Hispanic-American organizations like the National Council of La Raza. Clarissa Martinez is director of immigration and national campaigns for the group.

“The United States is more than a country. For many of us immigrants coming from other countries, it is an ideal and part of an aspiration," Martinez explained. "America has a proud immigration legacy, but it is not one without a tortured past.”

Supporters of the Arizona law say the state was forced to act because the federal government failed to secure the border during a period of several years, resulting in about 400,000 illegal immigrants now living in the state.

Nationwide, it is estimated 11-million illegal immigrants reside in the United States.


The Arizona law has many supporters around the country, including William Gheen in North Carolina, who heads a group called Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee.

“Illegal immigration displaces and replaces American workers, students, people using health-care facilities," noted Gheen. "It results in the theft of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars and some Americans lose their very lives because our borders go unenforced and our immigration laws go unenforced.”

Several other states have enacted laws similar to the one in Arizona and will be closely watching the Supreme Court case.

Gheen says a high court decision to uphold the law would give states more leeway in cracking down on illegal immigration.

“We stand ready now for the Supreme Court to hopefully rule that states can enforce the existing immigration laws of the country when the federal government fails to do so and we will move immediately to try to pass that law in as many states as possible as rapidly as possible,” Gheen said.


A Supreme Court ruling is expected by the end of June. Whatever the court decides could have an impact on this year’s presidential and congressional elections. How to deal with illegal immigration remains a major political issue and affects the ability of both Democratic and Republican candidates to appeal to Hispanic voters.

Hispanics are the largest growing bloc of voters and public opinion polls show they are overwhelmingly against the Arizona law.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.