Judge doubts the constitutionality of Arizona's immigration law

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton says the provision that makes lacking immigration documents a crime may violate prior rulings that bar states from creating their own immigrant registration systems.

By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times
1:12 PM PDT, July 22, 2010
Reporting from Phoenix

A federal judge on Thursday expressed skepticism that a key part of a controversial Arizona law to control illegal immigration is constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton noted at a hearing that the U.S. Supreme Court has long barred states from creating their own immigrant registration systems. She said the Arizona measure's stipulation that makes a crime of failing to have immigration documents may violate that.

John Bouma, the attorney representing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, tried to convince Bolton otherwise but eventually gave up. "I didn't have the feeling I persuaded you last week either," he said, alluding to a previous hearing.

Bolton did not issue a ruling.

The statements came as Bolton heard arguments from civil rights groups urging her to stop the law from going into effect July 29. The Obama administration has also sought an injunction. Its arguments will be heard later Thursday afternoon.

Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the ACLU, argued that the law, SB 1070, ignores the complexities of the federal immigration system to focus on trying to drive illegal immigrants from the state. "What we're facing here," he said, "is an attempt by a state to create an interrelated system of immigration laws that displace the federal" statutes.

Bouma said Arizona was only trying to enforce federal laws the U.S. government is ignoring. He urged Bolton not to enjoin the law."

We're talking about an extraordinary remedy," he said, referring to the requests to halt SB 1070 from taking effect. "We're talking about imposing on the sovereignty of the state."

In addition to making a lack of immigration documents a state crime, the law requires police officers to determine the immigration status of people they lawfully stop who they suspect are in the country illegally. Supporters argue that SB 1070 is needed to protect Arizona from crime spilling over from Mexico.

But civil rights groups contend that the measure will lead to racial profiling, and the Obama administration has said it is an unconstitutional attempt by a state to regulate immigration, which is a federal responsibility.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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