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Arizona asks justices to accept appeal over immigration law

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant prepares to board a flight in Mesa, Arizona.
An undocumented Guatemalan immigrant prepares to board a flight in Mesa, Arizona.
  • State wants Supreme Court to lift an injunction against parts of the law
  • The injunction blocks the more controversial parts of Arizona's SB 1070
  • Administration doesn't want local law enforcement to help deport illegal immigrants
  • Arizona says it "bears the brunt of the problems"

Washington (CNN) -- Arizona's governor has formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and allow the state to enforce its controversial immigration law known as SB 1070.

State officials filed a petition Wednesday, seeking to overturn a federal judge's order preventing four key sections from going into effect. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the sweeping legislation, parts of which went became official last year.

The Obama administration and immigration rights groups have opposed efforts to have local law enforcement apprehend and help deport illegal immigrants. The Justice Department now has several weeks to send its formal response to Arizona's appeal to the Supreme Court.

The justices will then meet privately and decide whether to accept the case for review. If they do, arguments would likely be held sometime early next year.

Brewer said the issue was of national importance.

"I am hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will choose to take this case and issue much-needed clarity for states, such as Arizona, that are grappling with the significant human and financial costs of illegal immigration," said the governor in a statement. "For too long the federal government has turned a blind eye as this problem has manifested itself in the form of drop houses in our neighborhoods and crime in our communities. SB 1070 was Arizona's way of saying that we won't wait patiently for federal action any longer. If the federal government won't enforce its immigration laws, we will."

At issue is whether states have any authority to step in to enforce immigration matters, or whether that is the exclusive role of the federal government.

Arizona argues it is merely assisting and cooperating with federal authorities, which it says Congress has blessed.

But the administration says such "interference" would hurt relations between the U.S. and other countries, disrupt existing cooperative efforts and unfairly target legal immigrants.

Among other things, SB 1070 would have required local law enforcement in Arizona to apprehend and help deport illegal immigrants. The U.S. Justice Department sued, arguing that only the federal government has that authority.

Earlier this year, a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department and against Brewer.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton had temporarily blocked the law's most contested parts 13 months ago, a day before they were scheduled to go into effect. Those provisions included the requirement that local police officers should check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The appeals court ruling upheld Bolton's ruling in April.

The legislation has a variety of supporters and detractors.

Republican lawmaker Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other state governments were among those filing briefs with the appeals court supporting the law. The Mexican government, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the city of Tucson, Arizona, were among those filing briefs supporting the Justice Department's side.

In its petition to the high court, Arizona says it is the nation's busiest illegal entry point, with many people streaming in from neighboring Mexico.

"Arizona bears the brunt of the problems caused by illegal immigration. It is the gateway for nearly half of the nation's illegal border crossings," said state officials. "Beyond the obvious safety issues, the fiscal burdens imposed by the disproportionate impact of illegal immigration on Arizona are daunting. Arizona spends several hundred million dollars each year incarcerating criminal aliens and providing education and health care to aliens who entered and reside in the country in violation of federal law."

Among the provisions given the go-ahead in April were a ban on "sanctuary cities," or municipalities with laws or policies that render them relatively safe for undocumented immigrants.

Bolton's ruling also allowed a provision making it illegal to hire day laborers if doing so impedes traffic. And her order allowed parts of the law dealing with sanctions for employers who hire illegal immigrants to take effect.

The appellate court sided with the Justice Department largely on the argument that federal immigration policy -- as well as America's standing in the world -- would be greatly undermined if individual states adopted their own separate immigration laws. Doing so, the ruling contends, essentially means a given state is adopting its own foreign policy, one that may be in opposition to national policy.

"That 50 individual states or one individual state should have a foreign policy is absurdity too gross to be entertained. In matters affecting the intercourse of the federal nation with other nations, the federal nation must speak with one voice," Circuit Judge John Noonan wrote in a concurring opinion.

That court is still deciding the larger constitutional questions. The issue before the Supreme Court at this stage is only whether the injunction barring enforcement can remain in effect.

In February, Brewer announced that Arizona had filed a countersuit against the federal government, seeking the authority to implement its own border security efforts. At that time, Homeland Security Department spokesman Matt Chandler called Arizona's court claim a "meritless" one that "does nothing to secure the border."

The Arizona appeal could set important precedent on similar laws pending across the country.

In the first half of 2011, state legislatures in all 50 states and Puerto Rico have introduced a record number of bills or resolutions relating to immigrants or refugees, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Through June, states had introduced 1,592 such bills or resolutions, compared to 300 in 2005.

The case is Arizona v. U.S. (10A1277).

CNN's Michael Martinez and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.