Schumer, Arizona Immigration Law Author Face Off on the Hill

On the eve of a Supreme Court showdown over Arizona's controversial immigration law, a senator who has vowed to fight any judicial backing of SB 1070 faced the author of the legislation at a Judiciary subcommittee hearing.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), convening his Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, vowed to have a legislative response of his own should the justices uphold the state law that allows police to require proof of residency with probable cause.

“It is simply too damaging to our economy and too dangerous to our democracy to have 50 different states be permitted to take their own direction when it comes to immigration policy,” Schumer said. “The Supreme Court should find the Arizona law unconstitutional, but if it doesn’t, Congress will be ready."

Schumer is planning a bill that would expressly preempt states and localities from enforcing immigration law unless they are doing so with the direct consent and supervision of the federal government.

He cited not only Arizona's law as the impetus for the federal legislation, but similar laws in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah.

"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 the hearing.

The only senators in attendance were Schumer and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "They're absent from this hearing just as they've been absent from every attempt we've made" to craft immigration reform, Schumer sniped of the missing Republicans.

Ranking Member John Cornyn (R-Texas), though, released his thoughts on the "theater" before the hearing began.

"This hearing does nothing to advance immigration reform in Congress or otherwise fix our broken system. It is no more than election-year theater," Cornyn said.

“The Supreme Court will decide the fate of Arizona's SB1070 on constitutional grounds. Yet none of the majority's witnesses is an expert on the complex questions the Court will consider," the senator continued. “This is not an attempt at having a sincere hearing on the merits. Unfortunately, the Democrat majority seems to have embraced President Obama's ‘mañana’ approach to immigration reform."

Schumer argued that the convention and tourism industry in Arizona has lost as much as $140 million and that the Alabama law is projected to shrink the economy by at least $2.3 billion annually and cost the state at least 70,000 jobs per year.

"Our founding fathers gave Congress plenary power over immigration law," Schumer said. "The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted the naturalization language in Article I to mean that the establishment of the immigration laws and the manner of their execution are committed solely to the federal government."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who will be in Washington with other state officials for the Supreme Court arguments, declined the invitation to testify before the committee because "she can't justify the very bill she signed," charged Arizona state Sen. Steve Gallardo, one of the hearing witnesses.

"We reached out far and wide… no one would come" from the law's supporters besides Russell Pearce, Schumer said.

And Pearce, the former president of the Arizona state senate who last year became the first state legislator to be removed in a recall election, was there for a full-throated defense of the law.

"I have attended the funerals of citizens and law enforcements officers killed by illegal aliens," said Pearce, who now leads Ban Amnesty Now. He added that $2.6 billion is spent by his state each year to "educate, medicate, incarcerate" illegal immigrants, and doesn't reflect jobs lost by legal residents.

He expressed confidence that precedent showed the Supreme Court would uphold the law. "Last time I was in Washington, the Supreme Court upheld e-Verify despite unpatriotic challenges of the Chamber and the Obama administration," he said, adding that the federal government tolerates "sanctuary" programs that are illegal and instead "chooses to sue Arizona for enforcing the law."

"SB 1070 has clearly worked," Pearce said.

Dennis W. DeConcini, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Arizona, called the law "mean-spirited" and "divisive," charging it "targets those with brown skin."

"We have unduly harmed our legal Latino residents in this process," he told Schumer and Durbin. "Whenever you mix politics and law enforcement, you create a toxic environment and that's what has happened in my home state."

"I'm embarrassed for my state," DeConcini added. "I apologize for our actions against our Latino community."

"According to experts, this law encourages racial profiling," Durbin said.

Pearce countered that "illegal is a crime, not a race," and that the majority of illegal immigrants just happen to come across the southern border.

"It's simply the rule of law," he said. "Laws without consequences are not laws at all," and SB 1070 forbids racial profiling, he added.

"I find it very demeaning to law enforcement that we would assume those kinds of things go on," Pearce continued. "…You have to respond to reasonable suspicion to do your job."

"Why didn't you just say that everyone who was stopped by police had to be checked for immigration status?" Schumer asked. "Doesn't the way you wrote the law [invite] racial profiling?"

"Just the opposite, Chairman," Pearce responded, noting that the bill was written "to preempt silly questions." This includes the acceptance of any driver's license from a state that requires proof of citizenship to be accepted as legitimate ID with no further questions.

"No matter what we do, we're attacked for trying to enforce the law," Pearce lamented, adding that the law "was based on reasonableness."

"I guess many would disagree with that," Schumer quipped.

Gallardo called SB 1070 "the worst piece of legislation ever passed in the state of Arizona" and said there is no way to get around racial profiling in enforcement.

"It's not by clothing, it's by the color of their skin," he said. "End of discussion."

Schumer's opening statement today also tried to pitt presidential candidate with the man he might pick to round out the Republican ticket.

"The wisdom of the Arizona law is also currently being debated around the country. For instance, SB 1070 has recently been endorsed as a model for the country by Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president," he said. "Others such as Marco Rubio have said they do not believe the Arizona law should be expanded nationwide."

Schumer said that if the Supreme Court upholds SB 1070 and he moves to the "contingency plan" legislation, "I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in this effort in the event it becomes necessary."

Pearce, meanwhile, was headed to the other side of the Capitol to back another piece of legislation.

The author of SB 1070 was to join Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), vice chairman of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, at a press conference this afternoon to talk about the case. King, who will be at the Supreme Court tomorrow, has introduced the New IDEA Act, which would make wages and benefits paid to illegal immigrants nondeductible for federal tax purposes and make e-Verify permanent.

The Supreme Court's ruling is expected this summer. Schumer's legislative effort would likely die in the House, but would become a flammable issue on the campaign trail.