WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats announced a game plan on Tuesday for dealing with immigration law SB 1070, should the Supreme Court rule in Arizona's favor -- one that would ban states from creating their own immigration legislation.
The Court will hear a case against the Arizona law on Wednesday, based on the Justice Department suit that contends SB 1070 -- already partially blocked -- is preempted by federal prerogative to enforce immigration.
Ahead of the hearing, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of a Senate subcommittee on immigration, announced a bill that would kill the Arizona law and ones like it.
"States like Arizona and Alabama will no longer be able to get away with saying they are simply 'helping the federal government' to enforce the law when they are really writing their own laws and knowingly deploying untrained officers with a mission of arresting anyone and everyone who might fit the preconceived profile of an illegal immigrant," Schumer said at a hearing of the subcommittee.
Schumer's legislation would bar states from enacting immigration enforcement legislation and prohibit them from seeking to find, apprehend or detain undocumented immigrants without training and authorization from the federal government.
It's not likely to pass any time soon, given the difficulty of passing even immigration reform with bipartisan support. Many Republicans support SB 1070 and the states' rights to police immigration. Both sides say laws like SB 1070 are put in place because the federal government has failed on immigration in some respect -- either through enforcement or changing policy.
Given the unlikelihood of passing an immigration law this year, some accused Schumer of playing the issue for politics.
Only two senators, Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), showed up for the hearing on Tuesday, which Schumer said was "not surprising" and "typical" because many senators are also absent from the reform effort. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in a Tuesday morning statement that the hearing was "no more than election-year theater" and skipped it for that reason.
Ousted Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Republican who introduced the law, said he was surprised that none of the Republicans, particularly Kyl, showed up to defend the law, and that none of them told him they would be staying away from the hearing.
Immigration activist and former Arizona State Senate majority leader Alfredo Gutierrez (D), who opposes SB 1070 but was not in attendance, also wasn't convinced that the hearing was more than politics.
Gutierrez pointed out in an email that Pearce was measured and calm during the hearing, despite a 30-minute-straight questioning from Schumer.
"This cynical circus by Schumer and his fellow Dems is backfiring on him," he wrote in an email. "A reasonable sounding Pearce is being given a platform to further espouse his views. I think Schumer thought Pearce would be unintelligent, clumsy and unprepared ... Schumer [is] getting an unpleasant surprise."
But Schumer noted during the hearing that most Arizona officials who support the law, including Gov. Jan Brewer (R), declined to attend, which may show they are backing away from it.
"If you're enforcing the law, why can't you come and defend it?" he said. "Governor Brewer didn't want to come. We reached out to officials far and wide," he said, but added none would come.
Pearce told reporters after the hearing that he knew he would be outnumbered, but would have liked more backers of the law to be in attendance.
Pearce is president of Ban Amnesty Now, an organization that advocates stricter immigration enforcement, which quickly decried Schumer's planned legislation after the hearing.
"Mr. Schumer isn't drunk with power, he's clearly moved on to much stronger drugs than alcohol," founder Sean McCaffrey said in a statement. "Clearly what America thinks doesn't matter to Barack Obama or Chuck Schumer."