Judge blocks most controversial portions of Arizona immigration law

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down key provisions of a controversial Arizona immigration law, stoking a divisive debate that hangs over this November’s congressional elections.


Democrats hailed the preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton as protecting a federal responsibility, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans seized on it as an intrusion into states’ rights.

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The Obama administration brought the lawsuit against Arizona’s law this summer despite polls that show the measure is popular nationwide.

Nevertheless, Democrats hope the suit will benefit them by attracting Hispanic voters who think the law would lead to racial profiling by police.

One of the provisions struck down on Wednesday would have required police who stop individuals for other reasons to verify their citizenship if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” that the person stopped is an illegal immigrant.

The ruling also granted an injunction against a provision of the law that would force immigrants to carry proof of immigration status and make it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek employment in the state.

In explaining her preliminary injunction, Bolton wrote that the law probably pre-empted federal law, the basis for the Justice Department’s argument.

“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,” Bolton wrote.

“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new [law]. By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose,” her decision read.

Republicans argue the administration’s decision to challenge the popular law will only intensify voters’ anger at the party in power.

A key part of the GOP argument is that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have expanded the reach of the federal government with legislation on healthcare and financial reform that intrudes on state governments and private businesses. The suit against Arizona’s law plays into that argument.

“Instead of wasting taxpayer resources filing a lawsuit against Arizona and complaining that the law would be burdensome, the Obama administration should have focused its efforts on working with Congress to provide the necessary resources to support the state in its efforts to act where the federal government has failed to take responsibility,” McCain and fellow Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said in a statement.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, predicted that her state would prevail in the fight with the government and vowed to appeal the ruling, which could land the matter in the Supreme Court.

Latino groups, many of which had urged boycotts against Arizona, rejoiced at news of the injunction.

“Not only did the judge side with the Latino community, she sided with the Constitution,” said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. “This is an unequivocal victory. The ruling enjoins the crux of the law that would have legitimized racial profiling.”

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Hispanics were a key segment of Obama’s winning coalition in 2008, but the president’s support among that group of voters has fallen significantly since he has taken office, according to polls. If Hispanics do not turn out to the polls this fall, it could hurt candidates in states such as California, Colorado and Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) faces a tough reelection fight.

Advocates for Hispanic-Americans and key members of Congress such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) have voiced frustration with Obama for not doing more to push comprehensive immigration reform that would include a pathway to citizenship for the country’s illegal immigrants.

“I’m glad to see the judge did enjoin what clearly is a federal responsibility, and I think it was important to do,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said on MSNBC shortly after the ruling. “I wish that the governor of Arizona and others would talk to their United States senators and say that we need that kind of comprehensive reform.”

Immigration is an issue that divides the Democratic Party, however, and some members were in no mood to celebrate the ruling.

“There are no winners here — no matter what the courts ultimately decide, we will still have wasted millions of dollars and our borders will still not be secure,” said Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), who opposed the law.

She said the administration should focus on immigration reform instead of the Arizona law.

“The administration needs to stop pursuing this distraction and start working with us to get the border region under control and develop a national immigration strategy,” she said.

This story was originally posted at 6:13 p.m. and updated at 8:42 p.m.