A federal judge in Phoenix Wednesday ordered Arizona officials to delay indefinitely much of the enforcement of the state's controversial new immigration law, declaring major portions of the measure an impermissible burden on federal resources and priorities.
Only portions of the law now will go into effect as planned midnight Thursday.
Put on hold for now, pending further judicial review, were provisions that required a check of immigration status for anyone stopped by the police under "reasonable suspicion" of unlawful status; made it a state crime to violate federal immigrant registration laws; and made it a crime for illegal immigrants to seek work in the state.
The Justice Department immediately praised the 36-page preliminary injunction ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton
, a Clinton nominee and longtime Arizona resident. Arizona officials promptly vowed to appeal it to the 9th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Considering the substantial complexity in determining whether a particular public offense makes an alien removable from the United States and the fact that this determination is ultimately made by federal judges, there is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new [law]," Bolton wrote. "By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a 'distinct, unusual and extraordinary' burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose."
Bolton reasoned that federal resources and priorities in the areas of immigration would be "impermissibly" burdened by the influx of people rounded up by law enforcement officials and suspected of being unlawful immigrants. It was not within the powers of any state to unilaterally burden the federal government in this manner, the judge ruled. Bolton did not fully address the constitutionality of racial profiling and other equal protection challenges to the new measure, which had been brought by private citizens and groups also challenging SB 1070, as the law is known.
Within an hour of the ruling, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who supports the new law, responded in an interview with The Associated Press: "It's a temporary bump in the road," Brewer said. "We will move forward and I'm sure that after consultation with our counsel we will appeal. The bottom line is we've known all along that it is the responsibility of the feds and they haven't done their job, so we were going to help them do that."
That point was not lost on Bolton. She wrote: "The Court by no means disregards Arizona's interests in controlling illegal immigration and addressing the concurrent problems with crime, including the trafficking of humans, drugs, guns, and money. Even though Arizona's interests may be consistent with those of the federal government, it is not in the public interest for Arizona to enforce preempted laws. The Court therefore finds that preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely preempted by federal law to be enforced."
That point was not lost on the Justice Department, which issued the following statement: "While we understand the frustration of Arizonans with the broken immigration system, a patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement and would ultimately be counterproductive. States can and do play a role in cooperating with the federal government in its enforcement of the immigration laws, but they must do so within our constitutional framework."