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Judge Hears Arguments Over Ariz. Immigration Law

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Michele Norris talks to NPR's Ted Robbins about Thursday's arguments in the Justice Department's suit to block Arizona's controversial immigration law.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

It's a big day in court for Arizona's new immigration law. SB 1070, as it's known, is scheduled to go into effect next week. This is a law that, among other things, requires officers to question a person's immigration status when making a stop for another offense.

Today, federal judge Susan Bolton is hearing from civil rights groups and the Justice Department. They say SB 1070 is unconstitutional and they want her to issue an injunction to block it.

NPR's Ted Robbins is at the courthouse in Phoenix, and he joins us where we can actually hear some protests going on behind you, Ted. There are two separate challenges being heard today. Let's start first with the challenge from the ACLU and other civil rights groups. What did the judge hear from them?

TED ROBBINS: Well, Michele, the judge heard from a coalition of civil rights and immigrant rights groups, such as the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. And their argument was both that it's unconstitutional because it should be federal law -immigration law that is - and that there were some potential civil rights violations here. And then we heard the state's attorney reacting to that, and now, the judge is hearing from the Department of Justice.

NORRIS: Based on the questions she's asking, can you tell if Judge Susan Bolton seems to be focusing on any points in particular?

ROBBINS: She is, Michele. In fact, the judge is very much directing these arguments, rather than letting the lawyers simply make statements for, say, 20 minutes. She is asking questions. And what she seems to be most skeptical of are certain sections of the law. For instance, a line that says all persons arrested must be held until their immigration status is checked.

Well, you know, the question is, what does that mean? Do they have to wait hours in detention? The state's attorney, John Bouma, he said the law - that that line in the law was not very well written. Another problem is the idea that people have to show registration of some sort that they're in the country legally.

Well, some people are in the country without registration - on asylum, let's say, and they don't have papers yet. Some people come from New Mexico, a neighboring state, which does not require you to be a legal resident to get a driver's license, yet a driver's license is what - is one of the accepted documents. So there were some definite specific questions.

NORRIS: The other challenge being heard today is from the Justice Department. Are similar arguments being made there?

ROBBINS: That will almost certainly. And the judge has really been waiting for this. That right now, she's asking pretty much about the preemption doctrine, which says that only Congress has the right to make immigration laws, and that this is an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent that, not to support it, because the Justice Department doesn't want this law but rather to sort of make a comprehensive ruling in this bill that would in fact make Arizona's own immigration laws. And that is unconstitutional. That's the nut of the Justice Department's argument.

NORRIS: There's a strong support for the law, but there's also a lot of opposition. There are a number of other lawsuits seeking to block SB 1070. Where do those other lawsuits stand, and when are we likely to get a ruling?

ROBBINS: Yeah, there is broad political support for it. You know, that doesn't necessarily translate obviously into legal support. The law is scheduled to go into effect one week from today. So the judge presumably, one would think since it's a request for an injunction on the part of three of those lawsuits to keep the law from going into effect, that she will rule sometime before Thursday. But whoever gets the ruling in their favor, it's expected that they'll - that the opposition who lost will take it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, almost immediately.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Ted Robbins. Ted, thanks so much.

ROBBINS: Oh, you're welcome.

NORRIS: Ted Robbins spoke to us from the federal courthouse in Phoenix.

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