WASHINGTON, July 22, 2010 -- The highly anticipated showdown between the U.S. government and the state of Arizona over the state's new immigration enforcement law began in a federal courtroom today.
Government lawyers asked U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to block the law from taking effect next week, while attorneys representing Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer asked that the entire case be dismissed.
Bolton did not rule on either request following today's hearing and has not indicated when she will issue her decision.
Earlier Thursday, she also heard arguments in a separate lawsuit brought by a group of civil rights and immigrant advocacy organizations opposing the measure.
The Justice Department, which filed its lawsuit earlier this month, says Arizona's law "crossed a constitutional line" and would disrupt the right and ability of the federal government to set and enforce national immigration laws. Government lawyers also claim the law is too broad and could result in racial profiling and discrimination.
Gov. Brewer, a defendant in the case, says the law complements federal immigration laws -- not overrides them.
"It is [the Obama administration] that is attempting to impose immigration policies and priorities that contravene and conflict with federal law and unambiguous congressional intent," lawyers for Brewer wrote in court briefs.
At the heart of the debate is the measure known as SB 1070, which would allow police to question and arrest people without a warrant if there is "reasonable suspicion" they are in the country illegally, and to charge verified undocumented residents with "trespassing."
All immigrants, legal and illegal, would have to carry proof of their immigration status and could be arrested if they don't have proper documents, should the law take effect.
It also would become illegal for people to employ illegal immigrants or to transport them anywhere in the state, even if they are family members.
"Arizona impermissibly seeks to regulate immigration by creating an Arizona-specific immigration policy that is expressly designed to rival or supplant that of the federal government," the Justice Department wrote in its brief. "As such, Arizona's immigration policy exceeds a state's role with respect to aliens, interferes with the federal government's balanced administration of the immigration laws, and critically undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives."
DOJ Seeks Injunction to Postpone Arizona Law
Government lawyers have hoped to prevent the law from taking effect on July 29, arguing that the measure will cause "irreparable harm."
Lawyers for Arizona and Gov. Brewer, however, are asking that the case be dismissed and the law cleared to take effect as planned.
"The federal government will suffer no harm if SB 1070 is implemented because the act requires only that Arizona's law enforcement officers act in accordance with their constitutional authority and congressionally established federal policy," Brewer said in a statement. "I am confident that the court will reject President Obama's attempt to prevent our state from protecting its citizens as a result of his failure to enforce federal immigration laws."
The Arizona immigration law, which passed in late April, has attracted international attention and sparked protests around the country. It faces legal challenges in six lawsuits, in addition to the one filed by DOJ.
Sixty percent of Americans support the Arizona law, according to the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. But fewer -- 46 percent -- think the states should have power to make and enforce their own immigration laws, one criticism of the Arizona statute.
The Arizona measure has spurred other states to seek to enact similar laws restricting illegal immigrants. More than 1,100 immigration-related laws have been introduced in state legislatures this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three hundred fifty-three such laws passed in the states in 2009.
Judge Bolton's decision could have reverberations across the country. A ruling in the government's favor could call into question the constitutionality of other state immigration laws.
Upholding Arizona's law, however, could open the door for more state challenges in areas of federal government responsibility.