Judge Holds Hearing on Arizona Immigration Lawsuit
July 22, 2010A judge heard arguments in a packed courtroom Thursday on whether Arizona's new immigration law should take effect next week amid a flurry of legal challenges against the crackdown.
The hearing focused on one of seven lawsuits filed against Arizona over a law that has reignited the national immigration debate.
The American Civil Liberties Union, federal government and other opponents of the law want U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to grant an injunction to block implementation of the law before it takes effect next Thursday. The judge has not said when she might issue a ruling.
The courtroom was packed with about 150 spectators and 30 lawyers, while dozens of protesters gathered outside. The group outside included opponents who believe the law is inhumane and supporters who believe it is a necessary response to secure the border.
The first part of the hearing was largely procedural as the judge and a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union broke down the law section-by-section to discuss the parts of the law that challengers want blocked.
Bolton said the law has a section allowing parts to still take effect even if other parts are struck down.
ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat said the law's provisions are supposed to work together to achieve a goal of prodding illegal immigrants to leave the state. He called it unconstitutional and dangerous.
Most of the controversy about the law centers on provisions related to stops and arrests of people, new crimes related to illegal immigrants, and a requirement that immigrants carry and produce their immigration papers.
Other parts of the law getting little attention deal with impoundment of vehicles and sanctions against employment of illegal immigrants.
Attorney John Bouma, who represents Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, told Bolton that those challenging the law haven't demonstrated that anyone would suffer actual harm if it takes effect, and that facts - not conjecture - must be shown.
"People talk about what they fear will happen and what they believe will happen," he said.
Defendants include various county officials from throughout the state, most of whom sent lawyers to the hearing. Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever was there in person, sitting at the front of the courtroom.
Dever's county is on the Arizona-Mexico border and he knew a rancher who was killed in March on his sprawling border property by a suspected illegal immigrant, possibly a scout for drug smugglers.
The killing of Robert Krentz in many ways set the stage for the new Arizona law to pass, with politicians calling for action amid border violence.
Outside the courthouse, opponents gathered in prayer before the hearing started and carrying paper doves attached to plants representing olive branches, a symbol of peace.
Sarah Fox, a 64-year-old Phoenix nurse, said the new law takes the country's economic problems out on immigrants, who she believes are being used as a scapegoat.
"It's morally wrong," she said. "I'm getting old and I don't have many years left to speak out against what is wrong."
Supporters of the law waved signs, some reading "Illegal is illegal," and clutched American flags.
Debbi MacNicol, a 55-year-old Phoenix psychiatric nurse who carried a gun on her hip and wore a T-shirt that read "Don't Tread on Me," said she supports the law because she fears Mexico's drug war will spill over into Arizona.
"It wasn't as much an issue until it started putting our lives at risk," she said.
Bolton was set to hold another hearing in the afternoon on the U.S. Justice Department's request for a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the law.
The law requires officers, while enforcing other laws, to check a person's immigration status if there's a reasonable suspicion that the person is here illegally. It also bans people from blocking traffic when they seek or offer day-labor services on streets and prohibits illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places.
Since Brewer signed the measure into law on April 23, it has inspired rallies in Arizona and elsewhere by advocates on both sides of the immigration debate. Some opponents have advocated a tourism boycott of Arizona.
It also led an unknown number of illegal immigrants to leave Arizona for other U.S. states or their home countries and prompted seven challenges by the Justice Department, civil rights groups, two Arizona police officers, a Latino clergy group and a researcher from Washington.
Justice Department lawyers contend that local police shouldn't be allowed to enforce the law because, in part, it's disrupting the United States' relations with Mexico and other countries.
Attorneys for Brewer argue that the federal government based its challenge on misconceptions of what the law would do and that Washington's inadequate immigration enforcement has left the state with heavy costs for educating, incarcerating and providing health care for illegal immigrants.
Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said it's clear there will be an increase in spurious police stops of drivers because officers will feel compelled to ask people about their immigration status.
"(Police) already are ramping up traffic stops and relying on them for immigration checks," Perales said, citing operations conducted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's department.
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