- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked key parts of Arizona’s tough new immigration law one day before it was to take effect, setting up a protracted legal battle and ensuring the issue will continue to roil the country through November’s elections.

Judge Susan R. Bolton, sitting in Phoenix, in a preliminary injunction sided with the Obama administration by ruling that the law would overwhelm the federal government and could hurt legal immigrants and U.S. citizens. Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, vowed to file an expedited appeal and said she will “battle all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, for the right to protect the citizens of Arizona.”

The judge’s ruling could put the brakes on efforts in a number of other states to pass similar laws, but in the near term it exposed the sharp division between much of official Washington, which praised the decision, and the rest of the country, where polls show Arizona’s law is popular and the Justice Department’s lawsuit is not.

Judge Bolton, who was appointed by President Clinton in 2000, said that requiring police to check the immigration status of those they arrest or whom they stop and suspect are in the country illegally would overwhelm the federal government’s ability to respond, and could mean legal immigrants are wrongly arrested.

“Federal resources will be taxed and diverted from federal enforcement priorities as a result of the increase in requests for immigration-status determination that will flow from Arizona,” she wrote in her 36-page injunction order.

She blocked a part of Arizona’s law that would require police to check the immigration status of anyone they stopped whom they suspected of being in the country illegally, and a second provision that required legal immigrants to carry proof of residency.

The judge did leave in place a penalty for anyone who transports or harbors illegal immigrants or encourages illegal entry into Arizona, and upheld requirements that mandate that state officials cooperate with federal authorities to remove illegal immigrants.

The Arizona law, signed by the governor in April, has become a major dividing point in the national immigration debate.

The administration argues that it has poured resources into security along the border with Mexico and that the region is safer now than ever before. 

But Judge Bolton noted at the outset of her ruling the “escalating drug- and human-trafficking crimes” that have dominated news reports and led to increased calls for better border security.

In Washington, the House was poised late Wednesday to debate a bill to spend more than $700 million to hire more U.S. Border Patrol agents and fund technology to catch illegal immigrants.

Polls suggest voters want more immigration enforcement and have found nationwide support for Arizona’s law.

But the administration has vehemently fought the law, arguing it is unconstitutional because only the federal government can write immigration rules. Hispanic groups in the U.S. and Mexican President Felipe Calderon also have attacked the statute.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza told the Associated Press that the ruling was “a first step in the right direction” and said staff at the five Mexican consulates in Arizona will work extra hours in coming weeks to educate migrants about the law.

Arizona argued that it was trying to aid the federal government in weeding out illegal immigrants, but Judge Bolton said the national system of immigration laws is complex and has various purposes that the state law couldn’t take into account.

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