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Originally published March 28, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Page modified March 28, 2012 at 8:09 PM

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Seattle joins effort to fight Arizona immigration law

Seattle is among more than 40 cities and counties across the country urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the most controversial portions of Arizona's law on illegal immigration.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The city of Seattle has joined dozens of cities and counties across the country in a friend-of-the-court filing that urges the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the most controversial provisions of Arizona's anti-illegal-immigration law.

The United States Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities also signed the amicus brief filed this week in the case — Arizona v. United States.

Seattle and more than 40 other jurisdictions are siding with the federal government, which first sued Arizona to block implementation of its 2010 law, which some say encourages racial profiling.

The federal government argued the law conflicts with its exclusive authority over immigration enforcement, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court a year ago ruled portions of it unconstitutional.

Saying they are home to some of the largest immigrant communities in the country, the cities and counties signing the amicus brief span the country — including New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Oregon's Multnomah County.

They argue provisions of the law are not only impractical and costly, but damaging to the relationships that law-enforcement agencies build with immigrant communities and the public at large.

The most troubling parts, they maintain, are those requiring local law enforcement to question individuals about their immigration status, ask them for immigration documents and detain those they suspect of being undocumented.

"By requiring local law enforcement officers to devote significant time and resources to the enforcement of federal civil immigration law and newly-created state immigration crimes, the (provisions) would force localities to divert scarce resources from the most pressing threats to public safety occurring in their jurisdictions," the suit says.

Craig Keller, who heads an anti-illegal-immigration group called Respect Washington, opposes Seattle's decision to sign a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, saying Arizona acted because the federal government failed to.

"Arizona's Legislature enacted SB 1070, now challenged by the illegal-alien lobby," Keller said. "This lobby now includes the clowns whose salaries we pay at the City Attorney's Office."

After last year's 9th Circuit ruling, the state of Arizona appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments on April 25.

A high-court ruling would apply directly to Arizona and states, such as Georgia and Alabama, that have adopted or will adopt similar laws, said Greta Hansen, an attorney with the city of Santa Clara, Calif., which filed the amicus brief on behalf of the cities. But a decision upholding the controversial provisions would be a green light for states to "create their own civil immigration schemes involving local law enforcement," she said.

"If laws like these are allowed to take effect, then the relationships of trust that law enforcement has with immigrant communities is undermined," Hansen said.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, with support from the city and the mayor, signed the brief "because the case against Arizona's immigration law is consistent with the goals of Seattle's Race and Social Justice Initiative, which works to end institutional racism," a spokeswoman said.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.

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