Judge Hears Arguments On Ariz. Immigration Law

A federal judge Thursday heard from the state, civil rights groups and the Justice Department on Arizona's controversial immigration law. The Obama administration is challenging the measure.

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A federal judge in Arizona must decide if that state's controversial immigration law will actually go into effect next week. Judge Susan Bolton, yesterday, heard arguments from the Justice Department and civil rights groups. Both said the law is unconstitutional and should be blocked.

NPR's Ted Robbins was inside the courthouse in Phoenix for the hearings and outside for the protests, which led to seven arrests.

TED ROBBINS: The number of protesters outside the courthouse grew throughout the day to a couple of hundred people, most opposing the law.

(Soundbite of protesters)

ROBBINS: In the early afternoon, about 40 people blocked an intersection. When police told them to move, all but seven did, and they were arrested.

If the law known as SB 1070 were in effect, police would then be required to check whether the seven were in the country legally. But SB 1070 takes effect next Thursday, unless Judge Susan Bolton sides with the Department of Justice and a coalition of civil rights groups, including the ACLU.

In two separate court sessions, Judge Bolton asked tough questions of both plaintiffs, especially the Justice Department's lawyer Edwin Kneedler. The Justice Department claims the entire Arizona law is unconstitutional because only Congress can make immigration law. But Congress also passed a law allowing states to help the feds enforce immigration law.

So, asked Judge Bolton, isnt SB 1070 just what Congress was hoping for? Kneedler was not talking after the hearing, but Omar Jadwat was. He presented the ACLU's case earlier in the day.

Mr. OMAR JADWAT (Staff Counsel, ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project): The mandatory nature of this act does it make very different from other kinds of genuinely cooperative enforcement that states can, you know, might lawfully be able to engage in.

ROBBINS: Jadwat also argued that the law's provision, which makes it a state crime for an alien not to carry registration papers, runs afoul of federal law in court cases, saying states can't create their own registration requirements, and that the provision making it a crime to transport illegal immigrants, no matter the reason, is too broad.

Mr. JADWAT: Some of our clients who we represent, who work with victims of domestic violence, regularly transport these victims to shelters, are in immediate jeopardy if this law passes.

ROBBINS: Two other provisions prompted some of the sharpest questioning from Judge Bolton. First, the provision saying police can arrest without a warrant anyone who, quote, "has committed a public offense that makes the person removable from the United States." Bolton noted that only an immigration judge can remove or deport someone, not police, not herself.

She also asked about a section requiring police to detain someone until their immigration status is checked. For how long and where? Even the state of Arizona's lawyer, John Bouma, acknowledged that could be confusing.

Mr. JOHN BOUMA (Lawyer, State of Arizona): I did say it could have been written more clearly. I think I said it might have been inartfully worded.

ROBBINS: But Bouma said the government still didnt make a persuasive argument against the law.

SB 1070 is so far successful politically, with a majority of Arizonans supporting it, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer getting a boost for her election bid from signing it. Brewer came to court, Thursday. She is, after all, named as defendant in the suits. Afterwards, she said she liked what her lawyers said in the state's defense.

Governor JAN BREWER (Republican, Arizona): I believe that it was a well-prepared presentation of where Arizona is going, and the direction of which we want to take our state in regards to the protection of the citizens of Arizona.

ROBBINS: Governor Brewer said she was confident that Arizona will prevail in the lawsuits. Lawyers on both sides, though, said they wouldnt be surprised if Judge Bolton ruled some parts of the law unconstitutional and allowed other parts to take effect.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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