A judge held two hearings in a courtroom packed with spectators and top Arizona officials Thursday on whether the state’s new immigration law should take effect amid a flurry of legal challenges against the crackdown.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer attended the second hearing, as did the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis burke.
Judge Susan Bolton did not issue a ruling at the end of the first hearing. The afternoon hearing focused on the U.S. Justice Department requesting a preliminary injunction blocking key sections of the law from taking effect next week.
During the morning hearing, Bolton told lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union that she’s required to consider blocking only parts of the law, not the entire statute as they had requested. She 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 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.
“In Arizona we have a tremendous Hispanic heritage. To think that everybody that’s Hispanic is going to be stopped and questioned … defies reality,” Bouma said. “All this hypothetical that we’re going to go out and arrest everybody that’s Hispanic, look around. That’s impossible.”
Jadwat said the new law creates a state immigration system that goes beyond the limits that federal law puts on local officers and will be costly for the federal government to assist in determining the immigration status of a large volume of people.
“The state has no authority to create its own immigration classification,” Jadwat said, adding that the state is glossing over the complexities of federal immigration law.
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.
The law is “intended to have a significant effect on illegal immigration,” Dever told The Associated Press. “I wish I could step up to the podium and help out.”
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.
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 in April, 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.