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The Supreme Court is about to take up one of the term's biggest cases. Next Wednesday, the court will hear arguments challenging Arizona's controversial state immigration law known as SB 1070. Among other things, the law makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally. It also requires police to question the immigration status of people they stop. Lower courts blocked parts of the law when it passed nearly two years ago.
And NPR's Ted Robbins reports that since then, Arizona has seen some big changes.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Back in 2010, when SB 1070 passed, the state prepared for big changes.
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ROBBINS: Opponents protested in the streets of Phoenix and police around the state got ready.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The entire country is watching to see how Arizona and particularly Arizona law enforcement responds.
ROBBINS: Every local police officer and sheriff's deputy took a class and watched this video instructing them on enforcing the law.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You have a responsibility to make a reasonable attempt when practicable to determine the immigration status of the person who is stopped.
ROBBINS: A federal judge blocked key parts of the law, but she couldn't block the law's intent stated right there in the bill: Make Arizona so inhospitable to illegal immigrants that they leave.
Migrant rights activist Lydia Guzman says they did.
LYDIA GUZMAN: A lot of people left. They left to New Mexico or they left to Utah, or somewhere else where they thought it might be a friendlier place.
RUSSELL PEARCE: So we know the impact we've had and that's not even fully implemented. That's just the threat.
ROBBINS: That's Russell Pearce, the former state Senate president who wrote the law.
PEARCE: And according to the Justice Department, the Arizona Republic and others, 200,000 illegals have voluntarily left the state of Arizona.
ROBBINS: Pearce also credits the law with lower Hispanic enrollment in schools and less crime in the state.
PEARCE: Crime is a 30-year low, an unprecedented drop in crime. Prison population is on the decline.
ROBBINS: It's debatable whether SB 1070 gets all the credit. The exodus from Arizona actually began before the law passed, when jobs in Arizona's construction industry dried up in the recession.
As for the falling crime rate, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik says there's been a significant drop in his jail population. But he points out that FBI statistics show crime rates are down in many states, including Arizona's neighbors which haven't passed immigration laws.
CLARENCE DUPNIK: This is going on all over the country. This isn't just Tucson, Arizona, or Pima County or Arizona.
ROBBINS: As crime rates are down, migrant rights activist Lydia Guzman says abuse against illegal immigrants who stayed in Arizona has gone up.
GUZMAN: You know, we have a lot of labor violations when they're not being paid their due wages, or they're not being paid, you know, a big chunk of money and they say that their bosses say to them, well, if you report me, I'll have you deported.
ROBBINS: Guzman says she and her colleagues have gotten close to a thousand calls from immigrants who've been taken advantage of by employers or landlords. But again, it's debatable how much SB 1070 is responsible since federal immigration enforcement has also picked up.
One thing isn't debatable, the political backlash. When the law passed, polls showed the majority of Arizona voters supported it. But last November, Russell Pearce, the law's architect, became the first elected Arizona official ever removed from office in a recall. Hispanics mounted a heavy Get Out the Vote effort to defeat Pearce.
GUZMAN: If this is what it takes for us to get angry to go out to the polls, well, then you're going to have a lot of folks that are angry going to the polls.
ROBBINS: Lydia Guzman says she and other activists are pushing legal residents toward citizenship and mounting voter registration drives. But getting Arizona's Hispanic citizens to the polls is the real challenge. Four years ago, their turnout was 16 percent below the electorate overall.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
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