Arizona Police Can Probe Immigration Status, Judge Rules

Arizona can require police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop or detain, a federal judge said, denying a request by civil rights groups to temporarily block enforcement of the provision.

U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton in Phoenix yesterday rejected a request by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to prevent Arizona from enforcing what the civil rights groups called the “show me your papers” provision until the courts have ruled whether it violates the U.S. Constitution.

The judge said she wouldn’t ignore the “clear direction” of the U.S. Supreme Court that the provision “cannot be challenged further on its face before the law takes effect.”

The Obama administration sued to challenge S.B. 1070, as Arizona’s immigration law is known, saying it encroached on the exclusive federal right to set immigration policy.

The Supreme Court in June struck down much of the 2010 law on grounds that states must defer to the federal government on immigration policy. The Supreme Court said the requirement on police checks of immigration status could take effect, while leaving open the possibility of new legal challenges.

“As the Supreme Court stated, plaintiffs and the U.S. may be able to challenge the provision on other preemption and constitutional grounds ‘as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect,’” Bolton wrote yesterday.

‘Reasonable Suspicion’

The provision requires local law enforcement to check the immigration status of a person they stop if they have a “reasonable suspicion” the individual is an illegal alien.

“Today’s ruling will lead to rampant racial profiling of Latinos and others who might be suspected of being in Arizona without authorization,” Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “We are committed to continuing the fight against this law in our case until it is permanently stuck down.”

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. All face court fights.

Illegal Immigrants

The judge in yesterday’s ruling blocked a provision of the law that makes it a crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants, citing a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta that found similar provisions in Alabama and Georgia immigration measures were preempted by federal law.

“The district court was correct in blocking Arizona’s harboring statute, which criminalized many everyday interactions with unauthorized immigrants,” Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in the statement.

The “show me your papers” section of the law will not take effect until further order from the court, which won’t happen immediately, according to the statement from the civil rights lawyers.

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.

Secret Ballot

In a separate case yesterday, Arizona defeated a U.S. government court challenge to a law requiring that union elections be held using a secret ballot as opposed to using the so-called card-check.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Martone in Phoenix sided with Arizona in a lawsuit brought by the federal National Labor Relations Board challenging the 2011 law, according to a court filing today. The board alleged that the law interfered with its power to protect worker union rights.

Martone said isn’t appropriate to assume that the state will enforce the law in a way that conflicts with NLRB rules. He dismissed the case.

The NLRB press office didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail after regular business hours yesterday seeking comment on the ruling.

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

The union elections case is NLRB v. Arizona, 11-913, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

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