Judge questions federal arguments against Arizona immigration law
sides lay out cases as Justice Department’s lawsuit tries to stop state’s crackdown
PHOENIX — A federal judge pushed back Thursday against a contention by the Justice Department that a tough new Arizona immigration law set to take effect next week would cause “irreparable harm” and intrude into federal immigration enforcement.
“Why can’t Arizona be as inhospitable as they wish to people who have entered or remained in the United States?” U.S. District Judge Su- san Bolton asked in a pointed exchange with Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler. Her comment came during a federal court hearing in the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer in an effort to keep the law from taking effect as scheduled on July 29.
Bolton, a Democratic appointee, also questioned a core part of the Justice Department’s argument that she should declare the law unconstitutional: that it is “pre-empted” by federal law because immigration enforcement is an exclusive federal prerogative.
“How is there a pre-emption issue?” the judge asked. “Where is the pre-emption if everybody who is arrested for some crime has their immigration status checked?”
At issue in Thursday’s hearing was whether Bolton would grant a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect while the federal lawsuit proceeds.
As dozens of protesters marched outside, the hearing marked the first round in the Obama administration’s effort to stop the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Seven opponents of the law were arrested after they sat in the middle of a busy thoroughfare outside the courthouse and unfurled a massive banner that said “We will not comply.”
“The regulation of immigration is unquestionably, exclusively, a federal power,” Kneedler told a rapt courtroom.
Brewer, whose fierce criticism of the federal lawsuit has helped her popularity at home, watched silently from the front row, drawing a “Good afternoon, Governor” from the judge.
Lawyers for Brewer argued with equal force that the legislation is a legal expression of a sovereign state’s right to secure its borders against a tide of illegal immigration. The federal government, the lawyers said, has failed to act.
“We keep hearing that we can’t really do anything about these illegal aliens — Arizona should just deal with it,” said John Bouma, Arizona’s lead attorney. “Well, the status quo is simply unacceptable.”
The law, which Brewer signed in April, empowers police to question people they have a “reasonable suspicion” are illegal immigrants and to send them to federal authorities for possible deportation.
President Barack Obama has strongly condemned the law, and the Justice Department filed suit July 6, setting up an unusual clash between the federal government and a state over who should enforce the nation’s immigration laws.
Francisco Garcia prays with protesters who oppose Arizona’s immigration law Thursday in front of U.S. District Court in Phoenix.