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Can a State Enact a Law to Enforce Federal Immigration Law?

A federal appeals court heard argument today on the controversial Arizona immigration law signed into effect earlier this year. After Arizona placed the law on its books, other states, including Florida have considered similar measures. The law would allow state officials to inquire into a person's status for the purpose of determining the admissibility or removal of a noncitizen under U.S. immigration law.

In July, the day before the Arizona law was to go into effect, a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. A three judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will now decide whether a state immigration law can be enacted to enforce federal immigration law.

The Arizona measure would have allowed state and local law enforcement to check on the immigration status of people they stop based upon reasonable suspicion. The law also would allow police to detain a person until law enforcement could determine the detainee's immigration status.

The Justice Department claims that the law would interfere with federal immigration enforcement. The federal government also argues that Arizona's strict immigration law is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The appellate panel reportedly had concerns regarding how the law could be constitutionally implemented. The judges asked direct questions regarding the propriety of law enforcement expanding the scope of a stop to include suspicions beyond the original basis of the stop.

The gravest concern of the appellate panel reportedly concerns the authority the law would provide state officials to detain a person after a stop. The law provides state and local law enforcement the authority to detain a person pending an investigation of the person's immigration status.

Judge Richard A. Paez asked the lawyer representing the State of Arizona how long could the detention take? "Twenty -four hours? Forty-eight hours? A week?" Arizona claims federal officials usually respond within 11 minutes.

When the appellate court issues its ruling, whatever that ruling is, the matter is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Source: New York Times, "Appeals Court Weighs Arizona Law on Immigrants," Jennifer Medina, 1 Nov 2010

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