Arizona’s controversial immigration measure has inspired numerous boycotts — and on Tuesday, it provoked another, when Senate Republicans refused to show up at a hearing on the measure. The hearing took place one day before the Supreme Court begins to weigh its constitutionality, leaving Democrats to spar with the author of the measure and paint the GOP as “absent” — literally — on immigration reform.
The hearing comes ahead of an election in which the two parties are battling for Hispanic voters, who strongly oppose the S.B. 1070 law and who lean Democratic by a huge margin. The Democrats’ hearing reflects an effort to highlight this divide, in part because they used the occasion to make an impassioned case for the DREAM Act.
Sen. John Cornyn (TX), the ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee, called the hearing a futile exercise and, following the lead of other Republicans, he took a swipe at President Obama for failing to pass immigration reform.
“Unfortunately, the Democrat majority seems to have embraced President Obama’s ‘mañana’ approach to immigration reform,” Cornyn said in a statement.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican and committee member, faulted Democrats for not conferring with his state’s congressional delegation beforehand. “I will not participate in today’s hearing because it is strictly political theater,” he said. “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.”
No. 3 Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), the party’s leader on messaging, said it was “telling” Republicans were absent. “They can’t defend the law and they don’t want to be tied to it,” he said at the hearing. “They were absent from this hearing just like they’ve been absent from every attempt to negotiate a comprehensive solution to our immigration problem.”
At the hearing, Schumer grilled Russell Pearce, the now-ousted Republican state senator who was the chief author of the law, as to whether it has fostered unintended consequences such as racial profiling of Hispanics. The law lets police demand to see evidence of one’s immigration status during unrelated lawful encounters if they perceive the person as being undocumented, and civil rights groups say it primarily burdens Latinos, including U.S. citizens and those here legally.
Pearce called it “demeaning to our law enforcement community” to suggest that S.B. 1070 causes racial profiling, arguing that the law “removes the political handcuffs from law enforcement” to go after felons, drug cartels, gangs, human traffickers and even terrorists. He even claimed that Sept. 11 could have been averted by better immigration enforcement, a charge for which he did not offer evidence.
Schumer highlighted a new Pew study that said net immigration to the U.S. from Mexico has come to a standstill, calling it a national trend that makes laws like S.B. 1070 unnecessary. Steve Gallardo, a Democratic state senator from Arizona, said the measure encourages law enforcement to target Hispanics, excoriating it as “un-American, illegal and unconstitutional on its face.”
Lower courts have blocked key provisions of the law for stepping on turf that is constitutionally reserved for the federal government. Schumer said he expects the Supreme Court to strike down the law, but vowed at Tuesday’s hearing that Democrats would be ready with a legislative response that would neuter S.B. 1070 and other similar state-level measures if it’s upheld, a decision expected by the end of June.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.