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Judge crushes immigration law

Photo by Ross D. Franklin

Photo by Ross D. Franklin

PHOENIX -- A federal judge dealt a serious rebuke to Arizona's toughest-in-the-nation immigration law on Wednesday when she put most of the crackdown on hold just hours before it was to take effect.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton shifts the immigration debate to the courts and sets up a lengthy legal battle that may not be decided until the Supreme Court weighs in. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer said the state will likely appeal the ruling and seek to get the judge's order overturned.

But for now, opponents of the law have prevailed: The provisions that most angered opponents will not take effect, including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The judge also delayed parts of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places -- a move aimed at day laborers. In addition, the judge blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.

''Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,'' Bolton, a Clinton appointee, said in her decision.

She said the controversial sections should be put on hold until the courts resolve the issues. Other provisions of the law, many of them slight revisions to existing Arizona immigration statute, went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today.

The law was signed by Brewer in April and immediately revived the national debate on immigration, making it a hot-button issue in the midterm elections. The law has inspired similar action elsewhere, prompted a boycott against Arizona and led an unknown number of illegal immigrants to leave the state.

Lawyers for the state contend the law was a constitutionally sound attempt by Arizona to assist federal immigration agents and lessen border woes such as the heavy costs for educating, jailing and providing health care for illegal immigrants. Arizona is the busiest gateway into the country for illegal immigrants, and the state's border with Mexico is awash in drugs and smugglers that authorities badly want to stop.

Brewer's lawyers said Arizona shouldn't have to suffer from America's broken immigration system when it has 15,000 police officers who can arrest illegal immigrants.

''It's a temporary bump in the road, we will move forward, and I'm sure that after consultation with our counsel we will appeal,'' Brewer told The Associated Press. ''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.''

The ruling came just as police were making last-minute preparations to begin enforcement of the law and protesters were planning large demonstrations against the measure. At least one group planned to block access to federal offices, daring officers to ask them about their immigration status.