Federal district court allows provision in Arizona’s immigration law requiring law enforcement to verify detainees’ immigration status to go forward

The New York Times reports that a U.S. District Court in Arizona has rejected a request by a coalition of civil rights groups that the court strike down a provision in the state’s immigration law requiring authorities to verify the status of people who they suspect are in the country illegally. In upholding the provision, Judge Susan Bolton adopted the same wait-and-see approach suggested by the U.S. Supreme Court in its June 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States, saying that the measure could be challenged “as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect.”

Hoping to validate concerns raised by the Supreme Court in its ruling, the civil rights groups presented several examples to bolster the argument that traffic stops and detentions would inevitably grow longer as a result of efforts by law enforcement officers to verify a person’s immigration status. The groups also used statements made by some state legislators – who spoke of illegal immigrants and Mexicans or, more generally, Hispanics, as one and the same – to prove that the immigration bill they passed was inherently discriminatory, a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Judge Bolton dismissed the first contention and seemed to have ignored their other claim. She made no mention of it in her order, which ran 12 pages and quoted extensively from the Supreme Court’s ruling, as well as lower courts’ rulings on similar immigration laws challenged in other states.

She did, however, give the plaintiffs one measure of victory by ordering the state to stop enforcing an aspect of its immigration law that makes it a crime to harbor or transport illegal immigrants. She employed the same rationale used by the courts in Alabama and Georgia to block similar provisions, arguing that states cannot impose rules in areas already regulated by federal immigration laws.

In 2010, Judge Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against the show-me-your-papers provision. The injunction is still in place, though on Wednesday she gave the department and the State of Arizona 10 days to formally request its dismissal.

Source:  The New York Times, 9/6/12, By Fernanda Santos

[Editor's Note: As a point of clarification, though the above article suggests that the federal court has "upheld" the provision requiring authorities to verify detainees' immigration status, the actual opinion reflects that the court only denied plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction to temporarily suspend application of the verification provision, identifying that it could still be challenged later.

In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized a MSNBC.com story, which reported that, in a 5-3 split, the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down three key parts of Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant law, but upheld the provision of the law that requires police officers stopping someone to make efforts to verify the person’s immigration status with the federal government. As the Editor's Note to the summary notes, Justice Kennedy, who delivered the majority's opinion, specifically stated the majority opinion "does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect."

Background on the decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the Alabama and Georgia immigration law cases is available in an August 2012 Legal Clips summary.]

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