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Govt asks justices to stay out of immigration case

By Pete Yost
Associated Press / November 10, 2011

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WASHINGTON—The Justice Department on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to stay out of a lawsuit involving Arizona's immigration law, saying lower courts properly blocked tough provisions targeting illegal immigrants.

The state law is a challenge to federal policy and is designed to establish Arizona's own immigration policy, the department's solicitor general said in a filing with the justices. Arizona says the law is an effort to cooperate with the federal government.

One provision requires that police, while enforcing other laws, question a person's immigration status if officers suspect they are in the country illegally. 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 that and other key provisions in the Arizona law.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is seeking to overturn the judge's decision and wants Supreme Court review of the case, arguing that the issues are of compelling, nationwide importance.

The Justice Department disagreed.

"That several states have recently adopted new laws in this important area is not a sufficient reason for this court to grant review" of the first appeals court decision affirming a judge's preliminary ruling against part of one of those state laws, Justice told the high court.

The Arizona law has been followed by others, including Alabama, where lawmakers enacted a requirement that schools check students' immigration status. That provision has been blocked temporarily.

The Justice Department, about 30 civil rights organizations and prominent church leaders are challenging Alabama's law. Still standing there are provisions that allow police to check a person's immigration status during traffic stops and make it a felony for illegal immigrants to conduct basic state business, like getting a driver's license.

Last week, the federal government sued South Carolina in an effort to stop the state's tough new immigration law. The South Carolina law requires that officers call federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally following a traffic stop for something else.