PHOENIX – In the first courtroom showdown over Arizona’s new immigration law, an attorney for a Phoenix police officer asked a federal judge Thursday to halt the implementation of much of the statute, saying it undermines the ability of the federal government to set foreign policy.
“We have only one nation; we can only have one immigration law,” attorney Stephen Montoya argued in a courtroom packed with more than 100 spectators. “Even though the state of Arizona believes Congress is not very competent and is inept, the state of Arizona has to live with the laws of Congress.”
The law, set to take effect July 29 unless U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton stops it, requires police to investigate the immigration status of people they stop and also have reason to believe are in the country illegally. It also makes it a crime in Arizona to lack immigration documents.
Bolton took the matter under advisement after a two-hour hearing and gave no indication when she would issue a decision. She is scheduled to hear similar arguments July 22 in lawsuits filed by civil rights groups and the Obama administration.
Outside the courthouse, small groups of supporters and opponents of the law waved signs and American flags. “Adios Illegals,” read one backer’s T-shirt. Inside, both attorneys’ arguments veered smoothly from the legal to the political.
John Bouma, a lawyer for Gov. Jan Brewer, said the state wants only to help the federal government do what it has so far been unable to do: secure the border.
“There’s no reason Arizona should stand by and suffer the consequences of a broken system when Arizona has 15,000 well-trained law enforcement officers who can help the federal government fix it,” he said.
Federal courts have held that states cannot create their own immigration policies. But Bouma contended that the Arizona law, known as SB 1070, requires police to assist the federal government only by making various federal immigration crimes state offenses as well.
“The decision was made to make assisting the federal government in enforcing immigration laws a state policy rather than just a local option,” Bouma said.
Montoya scoffed at that suggestion, saying the best response to Arizona’s argument “is to laugh.” He noted that the Obama administration argues that the Arizona law will hinder the government in enforcing federal immigration regulations.