FRIDAY, JULY 23, 2010

Arizona law gets skeptical hearing

Lawsuits seek to block strict immigration measure

PHOENIX – A federal judge on Thursday expressed skepticism about the constitutionality of a key part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, but did not say whether she would prevent the measure from taking effect next week.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton said during a hearing that the provision, which makes it a state crime to lack immigration documents, apparently conflicts with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says states cannot create their own immigration registration systems.

John Bouma, the attorney representing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in the seven lawsuits seeking to block implementation of the measure tried to convince Bolton otherwise. Then he gave up.

“I didn’t have the feeling I persuaded you last week, either,” he said, referring to similar arguments on another lawsuit.

Bolton issued no ruling and did not indicate when she would decide whether to issue an injunction to stop the main parts of the multifaceted law from taking effect July 29. Both sides agree that some technical parts of SB 1070 are constitutional, and Bolton said she would not try to strike those.

Thursday’s hearing involved the two biggest challenges to the measure – one from a coalition of civil rights groups, the other from the Obama administration. Hundreds of protesters opposing the law marched outside the federal courthouse here.

Brewer signed SB 1070 into law April 23, saying Arizona’s security was threatened by an influx of illegal migrants from Mexico. Among its many provisions, the law requires police to determine the status of people they stop and also think are in the country illegally.

Numerous civil rights groups sued, as did the Obama administration, arguing the measure improperly tries to regulate immigration, a federal responsibility. The law’s defenders contended it merely mirrored federal laws.

In four hours of hearings Thursday, civil rights lawyers and federal attorneys denied that SB 1070 parallels federal law.

“The ultimate authority for enforcing (immigration laws) vests in the United States,” said Edwin Kneedler, the deputy solicitor general. “The framers were very concerned that one member of the union could embroil the nation in a controversy.”

That, he said, is what has happened with SB 1070. The law led to the cancellation of a conference between U.S. and Mexican governors and to threats from the Mexican government to withdraw cooperation on trying to crack down on border crime.

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