Arizona will defend its immigration law before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday against charges by the Obama administration. The case is expected to be a landmark decision, determining whether states have the right to enforce federal immigration laws as they see fit, news sources report.
Senate Bill 1070 made it a state crime to be in the country illegally, among other things. The bill allowed police "to check the immigration status of people they lawfully stop and suspect of being in the country illegally. If they were unable to show a driver's license or other 'proof of legal presence,' they would be arrested and held for federal immigration agents. Arizona also would make it a crime to lack immigration papers or for illegal immigrants to seek work," the Los Angeles Times reported.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration says mere "unlawful presence" in this country is not a federal crime, and it opposes state efforts to round up and arrest more illegal immigrants. Instead, the administration has gone after drug traffickers, smugglers, violent felons, security risks and repeat border crossers. Last year, nearly 400,000 people were deported, a record high, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Other states have begun to roll out copycat versions of the bill. The Supreme Court's decision will determine whether Arizona, and therefore, all states, have the right to enforce federal immigration laws the way they see fit. The U.S. Department of Justice in its lawsuit argued that immigration is an issue that only the federal government can address. The state argued that SB 1070 mirrors federal law and assists the federal government in enforcement, USA Today reported.
The debate is especially charged as the presidential election looms around the corner, and illegal immigration remains a key partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats. There is an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"This could be one of the most significant immigration decisions of the last 20 or 30 years," University of California-Davis School of Law Dean Kevin Johnson told the Los Angeles Times. "It raises all kinds of issues that make for great cases: Immigration is an issue of great public importance, it raises issues of state versus federal power and it comes at a time when there is a lot of attention being focused on what's going on on the border."