PHOENIX — A federal immigration overhaul unveiled Thursday would trump state law but wouldn't necessarily nullify Arizona's first-in-the nation crackdown on illegal immigration, said U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republic leading the effort to change the nation's immigration policies.
McCain said the sweeping immigration bill would prevent future waves of illegal immigration while also creating a path toward citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living illegally in the country. The 844-page bill is designed to secure the border and allow tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country. It's won support from big business, labor, conservative and liberal groups.
A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer said she is still reviewing the bill. Brewer has blasted any efforts to extend citizenship to immigrants living illegally in the country while also urging the federal government to make the U.S.-Mexico border more secure.
Brewer signed Senate Bill 1070 into law in 2010 and has served as its chief defender. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down sections of the law in 2012, including the requirement that immigrants obtain or carry immigration registration papers. It upheld a requirement that Arizona officers question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.
McCain said the federal overhaul wouldn't change the Supreme Court ruling.
"Whatever law we pass, a federal law obviously would be the law applied to all states," McCain said. "But I don't necessarily know that it would negate parts of SB1070."
Arizona is the only state with both of its U.S. senators included among the so-called Gang of Eight pushing the legislation through Congress. Sen. Jeff Flake declined to comment on Arizona's immigration law Thursday.
Lynn Marcus, an immigration law professor with the University of Arizona in Tucson, said the federal overhaul wouldn't address the racial profiling debate triggered by the state's so-called "show me your papers" statute.
"The original concerns about racial profiling don't go away," she said. "We've seen a number of people questioned by police about their immigration status when they were merely passengers in a vehicle. That would seem inappropriate because there is no reason to suspect unlawful status just because someone is sitting next to a driver who made an illegal stop. So I think the concerns of racial profiling, even pretextual stops by some police officers who may be gung-ho by immigration law, would still be in place."
James Garcia, an activist with the Arizona Comprehensive Immigration Reform Coalition, said many of the immigrants targeted by Arizona's law would likely gain legal status under the federal plan.
"It becomes a moot point," he said. "If 70 percent of the people are able to obtain legal status, the system that is designed to essentially enforce the restriction of their movements becomes largely obsolete."
Garcia said Arizona politicians could also be motivated to move away from anti-immigrant policies if the nation takes steps to embrace immigrants living illegally in the country.
"That's already starting to happen," he said. "If the federal immigration law gets enacted, then it picks up thing dramatically and the idea of being a hardliner on immigration starts to look silly and out of place."
It's unclear if the federal overhaul will become law. Conservatives and law enforcement officials have been critical of the bill's border security provisions and other measures.
McCain said Thursday that the bill represents a workable compromise that would direct billions of dollars toward immigration enforcement.
"They are here and realistically there is nothing we can do that would send them back," McCain said.