Officer Sues To Block Arizona Immigration Law

A federal judge in Phoenix heard the first challenge to Arizona's tough immigration law Thursday. The suit was brought by a police officer, who contends it asks him to usurp federal authority. Robert Siegel speaks to NPR's Ted Robbins, who was in court for the arguments.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Phoenix today, a federal judge heard the first arguments challenging Arizona's tough immigration law. SB1070, as its known, is scheduled to go into effect later this month. Today, Judge Susan Bolton heard from lawyers for a Phoenix police officer who wants to put the law on hold. He says it's unconstitutional.

NPR's Ted Robbins was in the courtroom today, and he joins us.

Hello, Ted.

TED ROBBINS: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: And tell us about the police officer's case. Whats his argument?

ROBBINS: Well, his name is David Salgado and, as you said, he's the first to file a lawsuit against SB1070. Salgado says that his rights will be violated, along with the rights of suspects he questions if this law goes into effect. He's afraid the Phoenix Police Department will discipline him or fire him for not enforcing SB1070.

You may recall the law requires local law enforcement officers to check the residency or immigration status of anyone they stop, detain or arrest for another crime. More importantly, Robert, the principle behind Salgado's argument is that the law is unconstitutional because it's pre-empted by federal law. States cannot make laws dealing with people's immigration status or whether they should leave the country.

SIEGEL: So what did the State of Arizona say in defense of the law?

ROBBINS: Well, you know, even Salgado's attorney agreed with the judge that parts of the law are fine. The challenge is to a few sections.

Now, the lawyer representing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, John Bouma, wants the case dismissed because he says Salgado has no standing, that he's sworn to uphold all the laws and that there's no real harm in letting him enforce this one.

Now, the supremacy argument - the argument which says only the federal government has the authority to make law in areas like this - that was a bit trickier for Boum(ph). He said - Bouma, excuse me. He said that Arizona is just trying to help the federal government. The problem is, is the Department of Justice has also filed suit to stop the Arizona law. So it looks like the government doesnt really want Arizona's help.

Judge Susan Bolton really asked Bouma a lot of questions about the part of the law, which essentially says that anyone arrested on any charge has to be detained until police can determine their immigration status. I mean the judge pointed out that, you know, look, a lot of people are cited. She used herself as an example, minor charges like speeding.

So if she doesnt have her license with her, which is another minor charge, does that mean police have to hold her by the side of the road, or haul her into jail until Immigration and Customs Enforcement says she's a citizen?

SIEGEL: Now, you mentioned the suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. Judge Bolton will hear a number of cases challenging SB1070. Are the cases all likely to be argued along these same lines? Or will the challenges be on different grounds?

ROBBINS: Well, Judge Bolton is scheduled to hear two cases next Thursday. The biggest one is from the Justice Department. At one point today, she stopped one of the lawyers who was talking about the federal supremacy argument, and she told him that she'd deal with his point then, next week. That, of course, is the argument that only the federal government gets to decide who comes into the country, and who stays and who leaves. And I guess she thinks, you know, who better to make that case than the federal government itself.

SIEGEL: What was the scene like at the courthouse today; protestors for and against the law?

ROBBINS: Yeah, a few. I mean this is Phoenix in July. You know, I mean it's 108 in the shade outside. There were some protestors. A few dozen, I'd say against SB1070. The courtroom, on the other hand - which is a big round glass and steel room used for special cases like that - had a couple of hundred people in it, including people up above on a circular balcony. So this was clearly the center of the state's attention today.

SIEGEL: Any indication from Judge Bolton when she'll rule on this particular case?

ROBBINS: She said she'd take the request for a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect under advisement. And, frankly, it's hard for me to see why she would, you know, release a decision before hearing the Justice Department's case next week.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thanks, Ted.

ROBBINS: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ted Robbins in Phoenix.

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