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High court hears Washington's challenge to state immigration law

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The extent of a state's power to create immigration policy is up for decision in Washington, D.C. The legal challenge to one state's immigration law has reached the Supreme Court, where justices listened to each side's final oral arguments today, moving the case one step closer to its conclusion. According to reports of the arguments, the justices' questions and comments evinced support for some aspects of the state's law.

The court's eventual decision, which will not be rendered for some time, could have far-reaching effects on the country's immigration law. Washington has challenged the state's law on the grounds that federal law preempts state legislation touching on immigration matters. But the justices did not appear to give that argument complete approval. If the Supreme Court upholds part of the state's law, other states could enact similar policies. Some states have already done so.

At issue are four distinct sections of the state's immigration law. Specifically, those provisions:

• Preclude illegal immigrants from looking for work and punish them for doing so. The justices seemed to have trouble with this part of the law, which is more severe than federal law.

• Mandate immigrants who have not attained U.S. citizenship to carry proper documentation that proves their legal immigration status. Being in the country illegally is criminalized under the law.

• Compel police to check a person's immigration status if the police officer reasonably suspects the person is in the country illegally and the person is being arrested, stopped or held by police. Immigration advocates argue that this provision encourages police to profile people who are under arrest. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made clear, however, that the government was not challenging the state's law on this basis.

• Permit police to conduct a warrantless arrest of a person if the officer has "probable cause to believe" that person has committed a crime that could lead to deportation.

Immigrants should remain aware of what laws their states pass, if any, in response to the Supreme Court's decision and what effect those new laws may have on their rights.

Source: The Washington Post, "Arizona immigration law: Supreme Court seems receptive to parts of crackdown," Robert Barnes, April 25, 2012.

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