Tuesday, December 13, 2011

High court could look at state immigration laws

The Obama administration is waging a furious legal fight against a patchwork of state laws targeting illegal immigrants, and on Monday the Supreme Court has its first chance to jump into the fray.

Arizona is asking the justices to allow the state to begin enforcing measures that have been blocked by lower courts at the administration's request. Among those provisions is one that requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if officers suspect he is in the country illegally.

Similar laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Utah also are facing Obama administration lawsuits. Private groups are suing over immigration measures adopted in Georgia and Indiana.

The Justice Department says regulating immigration is the job of the federal government, not states.

Arizona counters that the federal government isn't doing enough to address illegal immigration and that border states are suffering disproportionately.

If the justices take the case, it would add another politically charged dispute between a Republican-dominated state and the Democratic administration to the court's election-year lineup. The immigration case would be heard and decided at roughly the same time as the constitutional challenge to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. On Friday, the justices intervened in a partisan fight over redistricting in Texas. That case will be heard in January.

In urging the court to hear the immigration case, Arizona says the administration's contention that states "are powerless to use their own resources to enforce federal immigration standards without the express blessing of the federal executive goes to the heart of our nation's system of dual sovereignty and cooperative federalism."

Many other state and local governments have taken steps aimed at reducing the effects of illegal immigration, the state says.

But the administration argues that the various legal challenges making their way through the system provide a reason to wait and see how other courts rule.

In April, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge's ruling halting enforcement of several provisions of Arizona's S.B. 1070. Among the blocked provisions: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant.

In October, the federal appeals court in Atlanta blocked parts of the Alabama law that forced public schools to check the immigration status of students and allowed police to file criminal charges against people who are unable to prove their citizenship.

Lawsuits in South Carolina and Utah are not as far along.


Illegals immigrants can exploit 'Lille loophole' to get in to UK on Eurostar

Illegal immigrants could be slipping in to Britain on the Eurostar because of a rule, known as the Lille loophole, that allows them to travel without any passport check.

Free movement rules between Belgium and France mean passengers travelling from Brussels to the Eurostar destination Lille [In Northern France] do not go through passport control.

But there is nothing to stop them staying on the train to London. Some 300 people were caught trying to do just that in the last year alone.

Full passport checks could now be introduced at St Pancras station in London, where the Eurostar service terminates.

The prospect was raised after Damian Green, the immigration minister, admitted the Government was powerless to close the so-called “Lille loophole” in Brussels without agreement with Belgium.

In an added farce, immigration officers in Brussels have reportedly been threatened with arrest after challenging suspect passengers to Lille.

It comes as the Home Office is still reeling from the scandal that some border checks had been scrapped at airports and ports against the wishes of ministers.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said he was “astonished” by the “most unsatisfactory” situation, adding: “If a simple railway ticket can give you entry into the UK, this is a cause for real concern.”

The loophole centres on the Schengen agreement signed between a number of European countries, including France and Belgium, which allows people to cross borders without passport checks.

The UK is not in the agreement can therefore check the passports of passengers travelling here.

As a result there are two gates for Eurostar trains in Brussels, one for those going to Lille, which does not have passport checks, and one for the UK, which does.

It means an individual could buy two tickets and then pass through the Lille gate but stay on the train to London without having their passport examined.

In evidence to the home affair committee, Jonathan Sedgwick, international group director of the UK Border Agency, admitted: “It is perfectly possible that people in some circumstances can get through.”

He said in the last year 140 people had been removed from the train at Lille and 160 had been stopped at St Pancras.

In June, an illegal immigrant was arrested after stepping off a Eurostar train carrying Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who was returning from inspecting border controls in Calais.

The Moroccan man, believed to be in his twenties, was held after UK Border Agency officers made a "sweep" of the train as Mrs May returned to London.

Sporadic passport checks are carried out at St Pancras but Mr Sedgwick signalled they could now become the norm. Asked if they were to be stepped up here, he said: “We intend to introduce tighter controls overall, yes.”

The move may be the only way to close the gap after Mr Green said rules around Schengen meant changes in Brussels could only be made with negotiation. He said: “It's one of those things that the British Government can't solve on its own ... that has to be solved in negotiations and that's what we're now doing.

"There are strict British immigration controls in place in France and Belgium and we have UK Border Agency officers based at St Pancras to target those we believe are intent on entering Britain illegally. "We are currently working closely with our Belgian counterparts and Eurostar to resolve this as quickly as possible."

Border force staff have also been threatened with arrest by the Belgian police for trying to close the loophole, emails seen by BBC Radio 4’s The Report programme showed. One officer, who tried to question two people suspected of trying to take advantage of the loophole, was told by Belgian police: "This has got to stop, you are not in Britain now, you are in Schengen. If they make a complaint, you will be arrested."

Another UKBA officer warned that staff were so scared of being arrested by the Belgian police that they "will now turn a blind eye to potential Lille loopholers".


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