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Author of Arizona immigration law defends it in Senate hearing

In a hearing Tuesday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) challenged Russell Pearce, champion of a controversial Arizona immigration law, to explain how racial profiling could be avoided under the statute. The US Supreme Court takes up Arizona's law on Wednesday. 

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“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 of Texas, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement. Schumer’s hearing, he said, was “no more than election-year theater.”

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Schumer announced during the hearing that he is prepared to introduce legislation that would reverse any Supreme Court ruling upholding Arizona’s immigration enforcement law.

“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.

“I also believe that Congress has already clearly and repeatedly indicated its intent to preempt states from creating their own immigration enforcement regimes,” he said, “which is why I believe SB 1070 and laws like it are unconstitutional.”

The high court ruling is expected to turn on the court’s view of whether Congress intended to preempt state efforts to assist in enforcement of immigration statutes.

Democrats generally support the president’s view that the executive branch retains broad discretion to decide enforcement priorities. Those priorities have preemptive effect on any states seeking to enforce other aspects of immigration law, they argue.

Republicans generally support Arizona’s position, that what matters is whether Congress intended to foreclose state enforcement efforts, not administration priorities or policies favoring selective enforcement of certain federal statutes and no enforcement of others.

Schumer mentioned several times that he invited a number of supporters of SB 1070 to testify at the hearing, and that all but one refused. “I’ll say this for Mr. Pearce, he was the only one who would come,” the senator said. “We reached out far and wide for those to defend the law and none would come.”

Pearce told the senator that he views SB 1070 as an attempt to uphold the rule of law as written by Congress. “I get a little bit disappointed that we are the bad guys for enforcing the law,” he said.

He added: “Mr. Chairman, we have a national crisis and yet we continue to ignore it. I think Americans are a little tired of the drive-by statements by our politicians.”

Schumer announced at the hearing that his proposed legislation would not only overturn SB 1070, but also an earlier Arizona law – upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011 – that requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure all potential workers are legally present in the US.

“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,” Schumer said.

“State officials can only engage in the detection, apprehension, and detention of unlawfully present individuals if they are doing so pursuant to an explicit agreement with the federal government and are being supervised and trained by federal officials,” he said.

RECOMMENDED: Do you know the facts behind Arizona's immigration law? Take our quiz 

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