By CNN Wire Staff
A federal judge has blocked one of the most controversial sections of a tough Arizona immigration law, granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday that prevents police from questioning people about their immigration status.
That provision requires police to “make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested” if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the United States illegally.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling, in response to a motion filed by the federal government, came with scant hours to go before the law goes into effect.
She also blocked provisions of the law making it a crime to fail to apply for or carry alien registration papers or “for an unauthorized alien to solicit, apply for, or perform work,” and a provision “authorizing the warrantless arrest of a person” if there is reason to believe that person might be subject to deportation.
Seven lawsuits are seeking to block implementation of the law, signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in April. The law, which also targets those who hire illegal immigrant laborers or knowingly transport them, is to go into effect Thursday.
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Arizona now has a couple of legal options in its effort to implement the law in its entirety, CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
One option is to ask the judge to revisit the issue after more complete fact-finding, Toobin said. A second option, which is more likely, is taking the case to the court of appeals.
“I think this a case very much destined for the Supreme Court,” as other states pass similar laws, Toobin said.
The Court of Appeals could take up the case in a matter of days, but the earliest the Supreme Court could look at it would be October because the high court is in summer recess.
President Barack Obama, a critic of the Arizona law, was not expected to comment on the ruling Wednesday.
The Justice Department issued a statement saying the court “ruled correctly.”
“While we understand 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,” the statement said. “States can and do play a role in cooperating with the federal government in its enforcement of the immigration laws, but they must do so within our constitutional framework.”
Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling, which is illegal.
Supporters point out that the law prohibits racial profiling and people cannot be stopped and asked for proof of legal residence based solely on their looks.
In addition to the U.S. Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy, the Christian Leaders League of United Latin American Citizens and other individuals or groups have asked the judge to halt the law, commonly known as SB 1070. Bolton heard arguments in the case last week from the Justice Department and the ACLU.
The separate hearings were held in Phoenix, where Bolton sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.
Bolton’s courtroom was packed during the two July 22 hearings and protesters chanted outside throughout the afternoon.
Seven protesters were arrested on civil disobedience charges, according to the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
The legal arguments revolved around a range of issues, including racial profiling, effective enforcement and possible harm to Arizona’s citizens.
Attorneys from the Obama administration presented their case at the second hearing. The administration’s challenge contends Arizona’s law would usurp federal supremacy on immigration.
Brewer attended the hearing.
Arizona has argued that the federal government has not done a good job of securing the border.
“A law unenforced is no law at all,” said state attorney John Bouma.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups argued earlier in the day that the controversial law amounts to racial profiling and will have a profound effect if it goes into effect.
“It treats people of color as suspects first, rather than citizens,” attorney Karen Tumlin said after the hearing.
Bouma said the law would not treat people unfairly.
“These are hypothetical arguments. Local police are enforcing immigration laws all over the country,” he told Bolton.
Those in favor of the law say SB 1070 is consistent with federal law. They say the law explicitly prohibits racial profiling and they are challenging the legal standing of many of the groups opposed.
They also contend opponents of the law have not been able to show there will be any harm from its implementation.
During the first hearing, Bolton said the law has a section allowing parts to still take effect even if other parts are struck down, according to CNN affiliate KNXV.
Tumlin, managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, and other lawyers and foes of SB 1070 repeated assertions that Arizona’s law should be rejected.
“We are here to defend the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves,” said Terri Leon, CEO of the Friendly House, which supports the legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Bolton heard a challenge to SB 1070 by an Arizona police officer the previous week.
Photo from CNN