July 28, 2010
Judge Blocks Arizona’s Immigration Law
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD /NYTimes
PHOENIX — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law from going into effect, a ruling that at least temporarily squashed a state policy that had inflamed the national debate over immigration.
Judge Susan Bolton of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction against sections of the law, scheduled to take effect on Thursday, that called for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and required immigrants to prove that they were authorized to be in the country or risk state charges. She issued the injunction in response to a legal challenge brought against the law by the Obama administration.
A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who signed the law and has campaigned on it for election to a full term, said Wednesday that the governor would appeal the injunction on Thursday and ask for a speedy review. Legal experts predicted that the case could end up before the Supreme Court.
The law, designed to seek and deport illegal immigrants in a state that is the principal gateway for illegal border crossers, had provoked intense debate from coast to coast, drawing support in several polls but generating boycotts of the state by major civil rights groups and several cities and towns.
It renewed calls for an overhaul of federal immigration law and led to repeated rebukes of it from President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who maintained that immigration policy is under the purview of the federal government, not individual states. The Mexican government, joined by seven other Latin American nations, supported one of the lawsuits against the law; the attorneys general of several states backed Arizona.
The ruling came four days before 1,200 National Guard members were scheduled to report to the Southwest border to assist federal and local law enforcement agencies there, part of the Obama administration’s response to growing anxiety over the border and immigration that has fed support for the law.
Judge Bolton, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, did allow some, less debated provisions of the law to go into effect, including one that bans cities from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
But she largely sided with arguments in a lawsuit by the Obama administration that the law, rather than closely hewing to existing federal statutes, as its supporters have claimed, interferes with longstanding federal authority over immigration and could lead to harassment of citizens and legal immigrants.
“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,” she said.
“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens,” she wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose,” she said, citing a previous Supreme Court case, a “ ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”
The judge’s decision was not her final word on the case. In granting the injunction, she simply indicated that the Justice Department was likely, but not certain, to prevail on those points at a later trial in federal court. She made no ruling on the six other suits that also challenged the law.
Her ruling, issued as demonstrators both for and against the law gathered here, and after hearings in three of the seven lawsuits against the it, seemed more likely to add another log to the fire than settle matters.
“This fight is far from over,” said Ms. Brewer, whose lawyers had argued that Congress granted states the power to enforce immigration law particularly when, in their view, the federal government fell short. “In fact,” she added, “it is just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens.”
State Senator Russell Pearce, a Republican and chief sponsor of the law, said in a statement that he was confident that the sections blocked by Judge Bolton would survive on appeal, noting the state’s previous victories in court on other statutes designed to give it a larger role in immigration enforcement. “The courts have made it clear states have the inherent power to enforce the laws of this country,” he said.
But Gabriel Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Law who has studied the law, called the ruling “a nearly complete victory for the position of the United States.”
He noted that she ruled in the federal government’s favor on most of the points it challenged.
Aside from stopping the requirement that the police initiate immigration checks, the judge also blocked provisions that allowed the police to hold anyone arrested for any crime until his immigration status was determined.
“Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,” she wrote.
She also said Arizona could not make it a state crime for noncitizens to be in the state without proper documents, nor could it allow the police to conduct arrests without warrants if officers believed the offense would result in their deportation. She said there was a “substantial likelihood” of wrongful arrests.
The parts of the law she did allow were not challenged by the Justice Department, but do figure in some of the other lawsuits filed. They include forbidding “sanctuary city” policies by allowing residents to sue the local authorities if they adopt policies restricting cooperation with the federal government in immigration enforcement.
She also let stand a provision aimed at day laborers, who are mostly Latin American immigrants, by making it a crime to stop a vehicle in traffic or block traffic to hire someone off the street. But she blocked a provision that barred illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places.
The law, adopted in April, coincided with economic anxiety and followed a number of high-profile crimes attributed to illegal immigrants and smuggling. It has become an issue in Congressional and local campaigns across the country.
Terry Goddard, the Arizona attorney general who opposed the law and is a possible Democratic opponent to Ms. Brewer, was quick to condemn her for signing it. “Jan Brewer played politics with immigration, and she lost,” he said in a statement.
But Republican candidates, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is seeking re-election, criticized the Obama administration for bringing suit.
“Instead of wasting taxpayer resources filing a lawsuit against Arizona and complaining that the law would be burdensome,” Mr. McCain said in a joint statement with Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, “the Obama administration should have focused its efforts on working with Congress to provide the necessary resources to support the state in its efforts to act where the federal government has failed to take responsibility.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 28, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the timing of Judge Bolton’s ruling. It was handed down Wednesday, not Friday.
Friday, July 30, 2010
July 28, 2010
Posted by Angela Valenzuela at 12:20 PM