Arizona Immigration Law Foes Seek Halt Status Checks

Opponents of Arizona’s immigration law asked a federal judge to block a section of the statute that survived the U.S. Supreme Court’s review requiring police officers to verify the immigration status of anyone they stop.

U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton in Phoenix heard arguments today on the request by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to stop Arizona from putting the provision into effect while its constitutionality is being litigated.

Bolton said she will rule on the motion later.

The Supreme Court in June struck down much of Arizona’s 2010 immigration law on the ground that states must defer to the federal government in immigration policy. The court allowed police checks on immigration status to take effect while leaving open the possibility of new legal challenges to the provision.

“The Supreme Court stated that if police extend detentions for status verification or other immigration purposes,” it will raise “constitutional concerns,” lawyers for the civil rights groups said in their July 23 filing.

The groups asked the judge to impose a preliminary injunction against that section of the law at least until the Arizona Supreme Court interprets it in a way that would allow enforcement that doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution.

‘Discriminatory Intent’

At today’s hearing, Karen Tumlin, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center, said legislators who passed the original state law were acting, in part, “with discriminatory intent.”

Arizona Governor Janice Brewer opposed the injunction request in an Aug. 10 filing, saying that the civil rights groups’ argument is “based on what a handful of Arizona law enforcement agencies may do, which cannot provide a basis to enjoin all law enforcement officers in the state from enforcing” the provision.

John Bouma, a lawyer representing the state, said it was unfair to claim race was a motivating factor in passage of the law.

“This law is about illegal immigration and there is good reason to be concerned about illegal immigration,” Bouma said at today’s hearing.

Racial Motivation

He called the suggestion of racial motivation “offensive” to state lawmakers when “a significant portion of their staff is of Hispanic background.”

The Obama administration sued to challenge S.B. 1070, as the Arizona law is known, saying it encroached on the exclusive federal right to set immigration policy. Arizona’s law was the first of its kind when enacted in 2010. Since then, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Utah and Indiana have passed measures aimed at illegal immigration.

Arizona has argued it has the right to act because the U.S. government hasn’t done enough and it doesn’t have to defer to federal priorities. The state’s 370-mile border with Mexico is the crossing point for half the nation’s illegal immigrants, Arizona said.

The case is Valle del Sol v. Whiting, 10-01061, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

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