THE legal battle may have just begun, but there was plenty of celebration among Mexican-Americans yesterday when a US Federal Court judge blocked the most contentious parts of Arizona’s new immigration laws.
Judge Susan Bolton ruled out key parts of a new state law that comes into effect today, touching up to 460,000 illegal immigrants.
The most significant part blocked by Judge Bolton was a requirement that police check the immigration status of people they suspect could be illegal immigrants during routine stops such as traffic violations.
Protesters, especially from the large Hispanic population in the US, claim the law is discrimination and amounts to racial profiling.
The Obama administration is opposed to the law and has promised to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing immigration is a federal government responsibility. Yesterday’s ruling was the first step as Judge Bolton temporarily stopped provisions of the law from taking effect while she heard a case brought against the state of Arizona by the federal Justice Department.
Judge Bolton agreed with the Justice Department that many parts of the new law would interfere with federal law. She found a “substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens”. Another risk was wrongful detention of tourists.
Backed by nine other states, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vowed to appeal the decision and fight for her quest to make illegal immigration a state crime.
In a time of high unemployment, Ms Brewer argues her position is justified because of a high number of undocumented Mexicans taking the jobs of out-of-work US citizens.
Opponents, including the government of neighbouring Mexico, disagree. They say the new law promotes racial intolerance, and many Mexican immigrants are employed in low-paid jobs Americans do not want. Protesters are angry that Arizona residents stopped by police for minor offences could end up in jail if officers suspected they were illegal immigrants and no documents proving immigration status could be produced at the time.
Judge Bolton also blocked a requirement that Arizona authorities verify the status of all arrested people before their release from jail, and a requirement that immigrants obtain or carry documents that declare their status.
Still coming into force today in Arizona is a ban on any restriction on sharing information about people’s immigration status.