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Updated Apr 18, 2013 - 4:49 pm

McCain: Immigration law wouldn’t negate Arizona law

PHOENIX — A federal immigration overhaul unveiled Thursday would trump
state law but wouldn’t necessarily nullify Arizona’s first-in-the nation
crackdown on illegal immigration, said U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona
Republic leading the effort to change the nation’s immigration policies.

McCain said the sweeping immigration bill would prevent future waves of illegal
immigration while also creating a path toward citizenship for the 11 million
immigrants living illegally in the country. The 844-page bill is designed to
secure the border and allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled
workers into the country. It’s won support from big business, labor,
conservative and liberal groups.

A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said she is still reviewing the bill. Brewer
has blasted any efforts to extend citizenship to immigrants living illegally in
the country while also urging the federal government to make the U.S.-Mexico
border more secure.

Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law in 2010 and has served as its chief
defender. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down sections of the law in 2012,
including the requirement that immigrants obtain or carry immigration
registration papers. It upheld a requirement that Arizona officers question the
immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.

McCain said the federal overhaul wouldn’t change the Supreme Court ruling.

“Whatever law we pass, a federal law obviously would be the law applied to all
states,” McCain said. “But I don’t necessarily know that it would negate parts
of SB1070.”

Arizona is the only state with both of its U.S. senators included among the
so-called Gang of Eight pushing the legislation through Congress. Sen. Jeff
Flake declined to comment on Arizona’s immigration law Thursday.

Lynn Marcus, an immigration law professor with the University of Arizona in
Tucson, said the federal overhaul wouldn’t address the racial profiling debate
triggered by the state’s so-called “show me your papers” statute.

“The original concerns about racial profiling don’t go away,” she said.
“We’ve seen a number of people questioned by police about their immigration
status when they were merely passengers in a vehicle. That would seem
inappropriate because there is no reason to suspect unlawful status just because
someone is sitting next to a driver who made an illegal stop. So I think the
concerns of racial profiling, even pretextual stops by some police officers who
may be gung-ho by immigration law, would still be in place.”

James Garcia, an activist with the Arizona Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Coalition, said many of the immigrants targeted by Arizona’s law would likely
gain legal status under the federal plan.

“It becomes a moot point,” he said. “If 70 percent of the people are able to
obtain legal status, the system that is designed to essentially enforce the
restriction of their movements becomes largely obsolete.”

Garcia said Arizona politicians could also be motivated to move away from
anti-immigrant policies if the nation takes steps to embrace immigrants living
illegally in the country.

“That’s already starting to happen,” he said. “If the federal immigration
law gets enacted, then it picks up thing dramatically and the idea of being a
hardliner on immigration starts to look silly and out of place.”

It’s unclear if the federal overhaul will become law. Conservatives and law
enforcement officials have been critical of the bill’s border security
provisions and other measures.

McCain said Thursday that the bill represents a workable compromise that would
direct billions of dollars toward immigration enforcement.

“They are here and realistically there is nothing we can do that would send
them back,” McCain said.

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