Friday, December 10, 2010

Dream Act Senate vote postponed

The U.S. Senate was supposed to vote this morning on the Dream Act. The measure would grant legal status to undocumented students and members of the military. But the vote’s been postponed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised a vote on the Dream Act and put it on the schedule. Not a vote on the measure itself, just what’s called a “cloture” vote – a test to see if there’s the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

It’s unlikely that the 60 votes are there. And Republican members don’t want to vote on anything until there is an agreement on tax cuts.

So Senator Reid used parliamentary procedure to postpone. He suggested that since the House had passed its own version of the Dream Act Wednesday night, why not just vote on that rather than tackling the Senate version and having to reconcile the two?

The reason: Reid could reschedule a vote on the Dream Act after the tax cut vote.

It’s still unlikely that Reid can rustle up the 60 votes he needs, but for now, the Dream – Act – lives another day.


Supreme Court to hear Arizona immigration case

Against the backdrop of a fierce national debate over illegal immigration, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a challenge to an Arizona law that revokes the licenses of companies that hire undocumented workers.

The disputed law is not the most controversial of new Arizona immigration measures. Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that requires police to investigate the status of anyone an arresting officer suspects may be in the U.S. illegally. That law, which provoked criticism from the Obama administration and others about potential "racial profiling," is mostly on hold while a constitutional challenge is in lower courts.

Yet, the business case could offer clues to the justices' views related to Arizona's broader crackdown on immigrants. "This case may have important ramifications" for the more controversial Arizona law known as SB 1070, observes Georgia State University law professor Neil Kinkopf, because both measures test the divisions between federal and state authority.

A key question is when states may act on immigration, which has traditionally been the province of Congress. Wednesday's case specifically tests whether the 2007 Arizona employer penalties are overridden by U.S. provisions that "pre-empt any state or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing ...) upon those who employ" illegal immigrants. The question is whether the statute is a "licensing" regulation or a broader measure that usurps federal power.

Another element — potential discrimination — looms in challenges to both Arizona immigration laws.

Washington lawyer Carter Phillips, who represents the Chamber of Commerce and civil rights groups in the employer-sanctions lawsuit, says a "reason not to allow states to disrupt federal uniformity is the very real fear that Congress had — that overenforcement of work authorization laws could lead to discrimination based on national origin. If the enforcement people in Maricopa County, for instance, are making workplace raids, you can be pretty certain that employers are going to start limiting their hiring to people who will not raise any suspicion."

A comprehensive immigration law overhaul has stalled in Congress in recent years. The Senate is scheduled to take up a narrow slice of the debate this week when it considers a bill that would provide a way for illegal immigrants who were brought here as children to obtain citizenship, through military service or college.

As more sweeping federal proposals have languished, hundreds of state immigration bills have been passed in the past five years. The Chamber of Commerce says that has generated a patchwork of complicated and conflicting rules nationwide. The rare alliance of business and civil rights groups that have aligned against the Arizona law say they oppose the hiring of illegal immigrants but insist that such regulation should be controlled uniformly by Congress, not by individual states.

Defending their 2007 law, Arizona officials say they simply want to make sure all workers hired by Arizona companies are legally authorized to work in the U.S. State law requires employers to use an otherwise optional federal verification program. That E-Verify system collects identification and authorization data from the Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security.

State lawyers, led by Solicitor General Mary O'Grady, who will argue the case Wednesday, tell the justices that Arizona was responding to an increasing number of people crossing the border illegally.

"By 2005, there were approximately 7.2 million unauthorized workers in the United States, representing about five percent of the labor force," O'Grady wrote in the state's brief. "And by 2007, the number of unauthorized aliens reached an estimated 11.8 to 12.5 million people."

Attorney General Terry Goddard, who will be in the courtroom, stressed that Arizona "feels very strongly that this was a proper exercise of state authority, specifically provided for" under federal immigration law.

Arizona says an initial violation of the hiring law warrants only a 10-day suspension of a business license. A second violation can lead to permanent revocation. It asks the justices to affirm a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that the law is only a licensing regulation.

Lawyer Phillips contends the statute does not reflect "any traditional exercise of licensing authority" and imposes sanctions more severe than under U.S. law.

Joining the challenge are several business groups, including the Arizona Contractors Association, and civil rights organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.


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