(MintPress)—Days after a study revealed the number of Mexican immigrants was at a 10-year-low, the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to hear arguments on the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration reform legislation — a case that will set a precedent in a time of growing nationwide frustration in the battle over federal and state power in immigration enforcement.
At issue in today’s Supreme Court case are four provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070 law, passed by the Legislature in 2010 and challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice on the grounds that it overstepped the federal government’s power to enforce immigration policies.
As a result of the challenge, the Arizona U.S. District Court placed a temporary injunction on portions of the legislation that granted law enforcement the authority to question the legal status of any person stopped lawfully and to arrest without a warrant on the basis of probable cause for deportation. Also at issue are provisions that make it a crime for a person to be present in the state without federal documentation and for an unauthorized immigrant to apply for employment.
A press release issued by the Department of Justice said the law violated the Supremacy Clause, which indicates states are bound to the U.S. Constitution, and that the new law would hamper federal and local law enforcement efforts to combat real crime, while also creating avenues for “harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants.”
“Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in the press release. “Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.”
The Supreme Court ruling, which is being held on an appeal from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, is expected sometime this summer.
As states and the federal government grapple over what to do, it appears some Mexicans are changing their minds about the American dream. According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, 6.1 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants were living in the U.S. in 2011 — that’s down nearly 1 million from 2007. The number of Mexicans living in the U.S legally rose slightly during the same time period, accounting in 2011 for 5.8 million people, compared to 5.6 million in 2007.
Since 2005, 1.4 million people have left the U.S. for Mexico, which includes roughly 300,000 children born in the U.S., according to the study. Most of those traveling to Mexico are doing so on their own, although the study indicates that roughly 5 to 35 percent of people are leaving due to deportation, according to government figures.
The study cites four main reasons for the decline in Mexican presence, including a tough economy where work may not be as easy to find as it was in the days of the housing and construction market boom. Enhanced border patrol and increased deportations, which included 282,000 forced removals in 2010, are also considered to be factors, along with a decreasing amount of Mexicans attempting to return back to the U.S. after leaving.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 20 percent of workers in 2010 who returned to Mexico said they would not in return — in 2005, only 7 percent said they would not attempt to migrate again to the U.S.
Arizona reflects nationwide trend
In the last two years, states have taken action to combat illegal immigration on their own, citing the federal government’s inactivity on promises of immigration reform.
Thirty states had at least considered bills relating to immigration enforcement, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-six of those bills have failed, with 21 still pending. That leaves six bills that have been signed into law in states that are now anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s Arizona decision, as it will determine the future of enforcement and pending District Court challenges.
Legislation similar to Arizona’s is stalled in Alabama right now. Having passed the House, the Senate is looking at changing the language of the bill to avoid constitutional battles. The bill in the House gave law enforcement the ability to demand documentation for passengers in vehicles who may not have violated the law, but were riding with a driver who was.
In 2011, Georgia also signed Arizona-like legislation into law, allowing police officers to question the immigration status of suspects. In a New York Times article, Gov. Nathan Deal admitted the state law wasn’t the solution.
“Illegal immigration is a complex and troublesome issue, and no state alone can fix it. We will continue to have a broken system until we have a federal solution,” Deal said. “In the meantime, states must act to defend their taxpayers.”
Opponents say the proposed Arizona legislation — and laws like it — provide avenues for people who are in the country lawfully to be arrested and detained. Those in the process of seeking asylum are not able to show proof they are lawfully residing in the United States until their proceedings are complete — and the immigration data system will not reflect this, either, according to a National Public Radio report citing former Bush Immigration Enforcement Chief James Ziglar.
In 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that asylum seekers with “credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country” would no longer be detained.
Sen. Charles Schumer said, if the court does not back the U.S. Department of Justice, he would encourage Congress to overturn the ruling itself. The senator made similar claims about a U.S. Supreme Court decision made last year, which allowed states to mandate the use of E-Verify for all employers, a flawed system which uses social security numbers to verify that all those employed in a given state are of legal status.
While state governments attempt to pass legislation that allow immigration enforcement as they see fit, it’s unclear whether differing ideologies on reform will allow a bipartisan agreement in Congress.
The Obama administration has increased border patrol presence between the U.S. and Mexico, continuing a trend created with former President George W. Bush. According to politifact.com, a fact checking news service, nearly 18,000 border patrol workers were employed to work near the southwest U.S.-Mexican border as of April, 2011, with 20,000 stationed throughout the nation — up 18 percent from 2008.
According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, 282,000 unauthorized Mexican immigrants were deported in 2010, in what the Center refers to as a “record level.” Since that time, the Obama Administration has implemented a new formula for deportations — one that looks at those being held in U.S. jails and prisons for first-priority deportation.
While Obama saw criticism for those who said the measure would fail to deport those who have gone under the radar, it will a welcome relief for some county governments who have shouldered the costs of keeping illegal immigrants in jail for federal offenses.
But with 6 million undocumented Mexican workers still living in the U.S., states say they’re still dealing with a growing problem.
The DREAM Act, introduced in 2009 and 2011, came close to touching on immigration reform, creating a path for undocumented children who graduate from U.S. high schools an opportunity to obtain citizenship. But the bill wasn’t what Republican legislatures were seeking, citing it did nothing for enforcement and instead provided an incentive for illegal immigration.
Update: Update: While a decision isn’t expected until June, arguments heard by the Supreme Court Wednesday over Arizona’s controversial immigration laws don’t exactly indicate a slam dunk for the Obama Administration.
The federal government lawsuit against the state alleged Arizona’s laws overstepped federal authority in immigration matters. But that argument didn’t seem to hold up among members of the High Court. Even noted liberal judge Sonia Sotomayor said she had a hard time understanding the opposition’s argument. In a New York Times article, she addressed Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli JR. by saying, “You can see it’s not selling very well.”
However, the show isn’t over yet. With Justice Elena Kagan abstaining from the vote on the grounds she worked on the case while serving as solicitor general, a deadlock could occur, in which case the decision of the U.S. District Court would stand.