Hours before an anti-immigration law came into effect in Arizona, a federal court decided to block parts of it. The state’s governor says she will appeal against the court’s decision. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
The court issued a temporary injunction against a requirement that police check the immigration status of suspects they had stopped while enforcing other laws.
Another section was also blocked, it was making it a crime not to hold immigration papers.
According to analysts this ruling is seen as a warning to other states considering Arizona-style immigration strictures.
Although the Arizona government’s first step will be an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, commentators are already predicting that the legal battle could eventually go all the way to the Supreme Court.
While Hispanic groups have called the Arizona’s immigration law racist, the text defenders say it is a legitimate attempt to deal with the problem of illegal immigration.
One of the provisions kept makes it illegal to transport and harbour illegal immigrants.
Another section of the law makes it illegal for drivers to pick up day labourers from the street.
The bill was signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer. He called Wednesday’s decision “a bump in the road”, and vowed to launch an appeal.
“We will take a close look at every single element Judge [Susan] Bolton removed from the law, and we will soon file an expedited appeal at the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit,” Brewer said in a statement.
“This fight is far from over,” she said, adding she was confident Arizona would win on appeal.
The law was passed in April by the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature, amid fears of rising crime caused by illegal aliens and complaints the federal government had failed to act on the matter.
The injunction is a temporary measure until the judge can decide on the law’s constitutionality.
A majority of Americans favoured such measures and several other states were considering following Arizona-style strictures, polls suggested.
Those states are now likely to reconsider.
“Surely it’s going to make states pause and consider how they’re drafting legislation and how it fits in a constitutional framework,” Dennis Burke, the US Attorney for Arizona, told The Associated Press.
“The proponents of this went into court saying there was no question that this was constitutional, and now you have a federal judge who said ‘hold on, there’s major issues with this bill’. So this idea that this is going to be a blueprint for other states is seriously in doubt.”
US District Judge Susan Bolton said in her decision that the blocked sections of the law pre-empted the federal government’s authority to set immigration law.
One of the controversial sections blocked by the judge was making it a crime for undocumented workers to seek or apply for a job. Another was allowing police to arrest without a warrant people whom they had probable cause to believe had committed a crime for which they could be deported.
The judge wrote that the US was likely to “suffer irreparable harm” if she did not block enforcement of those sections.
“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 added.
She also wrote that the surge in requests for immigration status checks would force the federal government to shift resources away from its own priorities.
The judge also agreed with an argument by the administration of President Barack Obama : “the federal government has long rejected a system by which aliens’ papers are routinely demanded and checked”.
However she let other parts of the law stand, like one barring Arizona counties and towns from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws. These parts of the law came into effect today.
The US justice department hailed the ruling, while acknowledging “the frustration of Arizonans with the broken immigration system”.
“A patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement and would ultimately be counterproductive,” spokeswoman Hannah August said in a statement.
“We will continue to work toward smarter and more effective enforcement of our laws while pressing for a comprehensive approach that provides true security and strengthens accountability and responsibility in our immigration system at the national level.”
The Mexican government has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Arizona law. He called the ruling a “first step in the right direction”.