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Arizona immigration law: states vs. Obama at US Supreme Court, again

The US Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Wednesday concerning the tough Arizona immigration law. Key question: Does the state statute usurp federal authority to set immigration policy?

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Sixteen states filed a friend of the court brief supporting Arizona in the Supreme Court case. Eleven states filed a brief supporting the administration.

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States supporting the administration argue that state governments have broad power to enact laws addressing the impact of undocumented immigrants. But that power does not extend to the federal government's authority to remove undocumented immigrants residing in a particular state.

"Congress could have delegated to the states, as it did to the executive branch, the same broad enforcement authority to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants for purposes of removal. But Congress declined to adopt that model," writes New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood in a brief on behalf of states supporting the administration's position.

Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch presents a broader view of state power in his brief on behalf of states supporting Arizona.

"Congressional intent is furthered, not thwarted, when state law enforcement officers verify and communicate to the federal government their reasonable suspicion that an individual is in the country illegally," he writes. "A contrary conclusion stands the whole notion of federal preemption on its head: a state enforcing congressional directives too well is an obstacle to congressional intent."

He compared federal immigration statutes with the federal Clean Water Act. The antipollution regulation is designed to enforce a national environmental standard, but states are free to apply more stringent protections of water quality within their own jurisdictions, he said.

Verrilli argues that the president's discretion in immigration enforcement is broader than in other areas because immigration is intricately interwoven with foreign relations.

He says humanitarian considerations, foreign-policy considerations, or other reasons may counsel against an illegal immigrant's deportation. Verrilli added that budget considerations may also be a factor.

"[The Department of Homeland Security] receives sufficient funding to provide for the removal of only about 400,000 aliens per year, whereas an estimated 10.8 million aliens are unlawfully present," he said.

According to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics, immigration officials under Obama removed 1.179 million illegal immigrants from the US during the three years from 2009 to 2011.

Despite the administration's claimed priority of targeting violent convicts, the statistics show that less than half (46.5 percent) were convicted criminals.

The majority (630,789) are listed as noncriminals who were found to be illegally present in the US and removed.

The case is Arizona v. US (11-182). A decision is expected by late June.

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