By Jacques Billeaud
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer filed an appeal Wednesday with the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that put on hold key parts of the state's immigration enforcement law.
The appeal comes as Brewer faced a deadline for contesting a district court's decision that, among other things, barred a requirement that police — while enforcing other laws — question the immigration status of those they suspected of being in the country illegally.
Brewer lost her first appeal in April when a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her request to overturn the decision. The nation's highest court has discretion on whether to hear her appeal. It will likely be three months before the Supreme Court decides whether to hear arguments in the case.
Lawyers for the governor argued that Arizona bears the brunt of America's border problems and that the 9th Circuit's decision conflicts with Supreme Court precedents and with immigration decisions from another appeals court. The 9th Circuit had said the federal government is likely to be able to prove the law is unconstitutional and likely to succeed in its argument that Congress has given the federal government sole authority to enforce immigration laws.
The governor said in a written statement that her appeal raises issues that apply to other states. "It's about the bedrock constitutional principle of federalism under which states have the inherent authority to protect the safety and welfare of their citizens," Brewer said.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which sued Arizona in a bid to invalidate the law, declined to comment on Brewer's appeal.
Her appeal said the federal government hasn't heeded the state's pleas for tougher immigration enforcement and therefore leaves Arizona open to illegal border crossings that result in the state having to eat the costs of educating illegal immigrants at K-12 schools, jailing illegal immigrants convicted of state crimes and providing health care for illegal border-crossers.
Brewer's lawyers pointed out that police in the Arizona border city of Nogales had warned their officers in the summer of 2010 to carry guns when they weren't at work after smugglers threatened to retaliate against off-duty officers who stopped a vehicle that was carrying marijuana.
The appeals said the 9th Circuit's decision suggests there is almost nothing the state can do to supplement inadequate federal immigration enforcement.
"The 9th Circuit, essentially, is almost looking for something in federal statute that gives states permission to take steps to deal with the problem" while Arizona contends states have that power unless federal law prevents them from doing so, Brewer attorney Paul Clement said in an interview.
In the past, the federal government has argued the law intrudes on its exclusive authority to regulate immigration, disrupts relations between the U.S. and Mexico, hinders cooperation between state and federal officials and burdens legal immigrants.
Kevin Johnson, law school dean at the University of California-Davis and an expert in immigration law, said there's a good chance that the Supreme Court will hear the case. "In this case, you have some conflicting lower court decisions and pressing policy issues," Johnson said.
Less than a day before the law was to take effect in July 2010, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked key provisions from going into effect, including also a requirement that immigrants get and carry registration papers.
But Bolton allowed other parts, such as a ban on obstructing traffic while seeking or offering day-labor services on streets.
The law was passed in April 2010 amid years of complaints that the federal government hasn't done enough to assist Arizona, the nation's busiest illegal entry point, with border security. The legislation inspired protests, led to lawsuits seeking to overturn the law and a debate about whether the law would lead to racial profiling.
Brewer filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the federal government that alleges that Washington has failed to control the Arizona-Mexico border and enforce immigration laws. Federal authorities are seeking the dismissal of that lawsuit.
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