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Arizona Sets Stage For Another Legal Showdown Over Immigration

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PEARCE
AP

WASHINGTON -- The lawmaker behind Arizona's infamous bill cracking down on undocumented immigrants has introduced additional anti-immigrant legislation seemingly destined to ignite further controversy and legal challenges.

On Monday, Russell Pearce, Arizona state senate president and the author of SB1070, proposed a bill that would deny children of undocumented immigrants the right to attend K-12 public schools in the state. The measure would turn school administrators into de facto immigration enforcement agents by asking them to turn over families that did not provide citizenship or legal resident papers.

The bill, SB1611, seems bound for challenges over its constitutionality, as it runs up against the Supreme Court's 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, which explicitly prohibits states from discriminating against young students for their immigration status.

"They're trying to create tests. This is all aiming for Supreme Court test cases by doing something that is over the constitutional line," Gabriel Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Law, told HuffPost. "The problem is that all of these people have taken an oath to support the constitutions of the United States and Arizona. It's really alarming and astonishing that they would deliberately violate the Constitution in this way."

It's not the first attention-grabbing bill from Pearce, who is reportedly planning a run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. A long-time foe of illegal immigration, the Arizona Republican gained a national spotlight for his work on SB1070, which the Obama administration is fighting in federal court. Pearce is now pushing a number of other anti-immigrant bills, including one to deny citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents.

With respect to his most recent effort, he downplayed the legislation's ramifications. "This is clean-up," he told reporters. "All it does is do what the voters have passed in terms of no taxpayer dollars for illegals. It just ties it up.''

The latest two bills, SB1611 and the bill to change birthright citizenship, were both discussed in hearings in the state capitol on Tuesday, immediately producing tensions between opponents and proponents, according to sources in the room.

In addition to prohibiting the children of undocumented immigrants from attending school, SB1611 would also require community colleges and universities to close the doors on students who are not citizens or legal residents. Current law allows these students to attend college, even though they must pay out-of-state tuition. The bill would also place harsh penalties on undocumented drivers -- including seizing and selling their cars. Arizona already denies driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, but the bill takes it a few leaps further by requiring a 30-day jail sentence for driving without proof of legal residence. It also allows the state to impound and sell cars of illegal immigrants caught by police.

Surveying the breadth of the bill, immigrant rights advocates accused Pearce of orchestrating a plan to create "attrition through enforcement": making it so difficult to live in Arizona that undocumented immigrants simply pack up and leave.

"What [Pearce] wants to do is deter people through attrition so they will leave Arizona," attorney Jose Penalosa, who works with Somos Republicanos, told HuffPost. "He's attacking it at the heart of the issue, which is children. He's kidnapping kids."

"This is an attempt to drive the debate even farther right," Sal Reza, an immigration activist and a leader of the Puente movement, told HuffPost. "Whether it passes or doesn't pass, the impact is to try to move the rest of the nation towards a more repressive type of legislation. Under the pretext of illegal immigration they're basically creating police state and driving people out by any means necessary."

Hoping to insert a human element into the debate, advocacy groups also put reporters in touch with undocumented children who would be affected by the legislation. One 17-year-old senior in high school in Arizona named Anna (her last name has not been revealed due to the legal ramifications should she be identified) said the bill would keep her from attending community college and then transferring to a state university.

"If bills like this pass it will take away my opportunity to be the person I want to be," said Anna, who moved to the United States from Mexico without authorization as a one-year-old. "I've always wanted to be a history teacher or go into philosophy. The senate should focus on other things and stop attacking the children and the future."

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