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Democrats Focus on Immigration

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer (left) and Dick Durbin were the only attendees at a subcommittee hearing on Arizona’s immigration law Tuesday, one day before the Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments on the far-reaching measure.

Looking to position themselves ahead of the November elections, Senate Democrats on Tuesday took on the issue of immigration — promising to overturn a far-reaching Arizona law and refusing to eliminate a provision in the Violence Against Women Act that includes protection for some illegal immigrants.

In an apparent attempt to piggyback on today’s Supreme Court oral arguments on the Arizona law, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, held a hearing and promised to introduce legislation to block the state from enforcing the act, known as Arizona S.B. 1070, if the Supreme Court upholds it.

But Republicans accused Schumer and Democrats of pandering to Hispanic voters and boycotted the hearing.

Schumer, who is also head of the Senate Democrats policy and communications operations, is an ardent critic of the law, which requires Arizona law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or suspect of being an illegal immigrant.

“Congress has already clearly and repeatedly indicated its intent to pre-empt states from creating their own immigration enforcement regimes, which is why I believe S.B. 1070 and laws like it are unconstitutional,” he said.

Schumer said his bill would “re-emphasize that state officials can only engage in the detection, apprehension and detention of unlawfully present individuals if they are doing so pursuant to an explicit agreement with the federal government and are being supervised and trained by federal officials.”

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the only other Senator to attend the hearing, said the Arizona law encourages racial profiling and discourages the undocumented community from working with law enforcement.

“The Arizona immigration law will simply deter undocumented immigrants from being part of the community and cooperating with law enforcement when necessary,” Durbin said.

But Republicans said the hearing was a media circus designed to cast the GOP in a negative light.

“I will not participate in today’s hearing because it is strictly political theater,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a member of the subcommittee.

“The timing of the hearing just one day ahead of the Supreme Court’s review of the law suggests that its purpose is either to influence the court’s decision or to garner publicity,” Kyl continued. “The failure of Senate Democrats to seek input from any members of the Arizona Congressional delegation before scheduling the hearing further demonstrates that it is intended to be more of a spectacle than a forum for learning anything useful for policymaking. The Supreme Court will decide the case on its merits and that is how it should be.”

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