Immigration Debate Heats Up on Hill as Court Gets Arizona Law

Controversial Arizona immigration policy gets day in court.

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As Arizona's controversial immigration law gets set for Supreme Court scrutiny on Wednesday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are eager to get in on the act.

Democrats see it as a political opportunity to paint Republicans as xenophobic and further drive a wedge between the GOP and the growing bloc of Hispanic voters. And Republicans see it as an opportunity to rally their base and push back on any legislative moves that would potentially create a path for citizenship for any illegal immigrants currently working in the United States.

The most contentious part of the Arizona law is the power it grants police to ask for proof of citizenship from people they suspect are not here legally. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and others protest that this amounts to codified racial profiling and discrimination. Other states, such as Alabama and Georgia, have passed similar legislation, and residents have observed a host of consequences of the measures, such as the flight of migrant laborers and the break-up of families.

[Debate Club: Is Arizona's SB1070 law constitutional?]

Paul Bridges, mayor of Uvalda, Ga., who is a plaintiff in a case challenging his state's law, said he was in favor of stronger immigration legislation until he realized what it actually meant.

He said during a press conference at the Capitol held Monday that in his small agricultural town, crops were left out to rot because no one was there to harvest them–-a terrible blow to family-owned farms.

Immigration policy should be set at the federal level, he said, not piecemeal by states.

That's the crux of the argument set to be heard Wednesday before the Supreme Court regarding Arizona's law, whether or not states have the right to determine immigration policy.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

Senate Democrats, hoping to capitalize on the discussion, scheduled a hearing on the Arizona law on Tuesday.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the legislation into law, declined an invitation to attend the hearing, even though she is in Washington, D.C., Democrats said. Brewer stirred up controversy earlier this year when she met President Obama on the tarmac as he arrived in her state, jabbing her finger angrily at the president, who does not share her views on immigration, as photographers captured the scene.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, who serves on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee hosting the hearing, also said he was declining to attend.

"I will not participate in today's hearing because it is strictly political theater," Kyl said in a statement. "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."

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

However, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer's office, the law's Republican author, Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, and a Democrat sponsoring a repeal measure will both be in attendance and face questioning from senators.

Similar to when the controversial federal healthcare law was argued a few weeks ago before the court, the immigration arguments are expected to carry implications for the presidential race as well. Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney established a very conservative immigration stance during the primary campaign, but has more recently appeared to soften his position on the possibility for a path to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants.

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.