Friday, July 16, 2010

Debate Over Arizona Immigration Law Comes to U.S. Court

July 15, 2010

Debate Over Arizona Immigration Law Comes to U.S. Court

New York Times

PHOENIX — Partisans in the debate over Arizona’s stringent immigration law squared off for the first time in federal court Thursday, providing an early glimpse into the legal arguments that will be used in the coming battle over the new law.

Judge Susan Bolton of Federal District Court, in a hearing on a challenge to the law brought by a Phoenix police officer, did not issue a ruling but reacted to the arguments of both sides with skepticism and pointed questions. She has said she could not promise to rule before July 29, when the law takes effect, and at one point Thursday archly noted that the Justice Department would be in her courtroom next week making some of the same arguments against the law.

But the hearing did suggest possible difficulties for both sides in court as they debated the law, which requires the police to check the immigration status of people they stop or arrest if they suspect they are in the country illegally.

“I thought the state wanted to assist the federal government in doing a task they are not entirely successfully doing,” Judge Bolton told Stephen Montoya, a lawyer for a Phoenix police officer who challenged the law as unconstitutional and likely to force him to racially profile.

“The federal government does not want that assistance,” Mr. Montoya countered, noting the Justice Department lawsuit rests largely on the ground that the state is intruding on federal authority. “And they are unequivocal in not wanting that assistance. The best response to that argument after the federal government sued is to laugh.”

Mr. Montoya said that the federal government already has special programs in which state and local governments can participate in immigration enforcement and that the Arizona law, by imposing state sanctions, levies punishments on immigrants they would not face in other states.

“The true evil” of the law, he said, “is that it is divisive. We can’t have 50 immigration laws.”

Questioning John Bouma, a lawyer for Gov. Jan Brewer, Judge Bolton asked if the state law was “an attempt to get around the fact that Arizona cannot have an alien registration law?”

Mr. Bouma said Congress intended states to play a role and “just leaving it in the status quo leaves the state of Arizona in economic harm, in irreparable harm, every day” from associated costs. “This particular executive branch does not want assistance,” he said. “They want to do it their own way.”

The lawyers and judge also sparred over whether the officer, David Salgado, and a social service organization, Chicanos por la Causa, could bring a case before the law takes effect.

Lawyers for the state said previous rulings would not allow it, but Mr. Montoya argued Mr. Salgado was under “genuine threat” of being fired if he did not enforce the law or could be sued by people who claim their race or ethnicity motivated his check.

“Is there a genuine threat?” she asked in a tone tinged with disbelief.

“Absolutely,” Mr. Montoya replied, going on to explain further Mr. Salgado’s perceived dilemma.

The Arizona Supreme Court has allowed race to be considered when making an immigration stop, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled in a different case that race or ethnicity cannot be considered, Mr. Montoya said.

“Who is Officer Salgado going to obey, the Arizona Supreme Court, which says it can be a factor, or the Ninth Circuit, which says race can’t be used?” he asked.

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