Arizona shouldn’t have to suffer from the country’s broken immigration system when it has 15,000 police officers who can arrest illegal immigrants, state attorneys argued Thursday in the first major hearing on challenges to a strict new immigration law.
John Bouma, an attorney representing the state, said federal authorities haven’t done an adequate job of lessening Arizona’s immigration woes, such as criminal immigrants who have assaulted police officers.
But allowing Arizona to carry out its own immigration law violates all court decisions that hold that only the federal government can handle immigration, said Stephen Montoya, an attorney for Phoenix police Officer David Salgado, who filed the lawsuit.
“The federal government doesn’t want this assistance,” she said.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton didn’t rule on whether to block the law from taking effect July 29, or whether to dismiss the lawsuit, one of seven.
Attorneys for Gov. Jan Brewer told Bolton that the lawsuit – filed by Phoenix Police Officer David Salgado and the statewide nonprofit group Chicanos Por La Causa – should be dismissed because Salgado and the group lack legal standing to sue and that there’s no valid claim of immediate harm.
But Salgado’s attorney disagreed.
“He does have a real threat,” attorney Stephen Montoya said. “They can fire him. That’s enough.”
Hearings on the six other lawsuits, including one filed by the federal government, are set for next week.
Protesters and supporters of the law gathered outside the courthouse, separated by at least seven Phoenix police officers carrying guns and handcuffs.
About two dozen supporters, many dressed in red, white and blue, held up signs praising Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a major backer of the crackdown on illegal immigrants, and one that said “American Pride.”
Larry Templeton, 66, of Sun City, said he came to suppor t the law because he believes in defending states’ rights.
“They’re saying it’s racist. It isn’t anti any race, it’s anti-criminal,” said Templeton, who wore an American flag T-shirt and a hat with American flag buttons.
About 10 feet away, some 30 people opposed to the law held up signs calling for its repeal.
“We demand an injunction. We demand a federal intervention,” opponent Sandra Castro of Phoenix, 22, yelled into a bullhorn.
The law requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person’s immigration status if officers have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.
Supporters say the law was needed because the federal government hasn’t adequately confronted illegal immigration in Arizona, the busiest illegal gateway for immigrants into the United States. Opponents say the law would lead to racial profiling and distract from police officers’ traditional roles in combating crimes in their communities.
Montoya said the U.S. Department of Justice’s separate challenge to the Arizona law bolsters his clients’ argument that the state law is unconstitutional. Both lawsuits contend the state law intrudes on the federal government’s constitutional authority to set and enforce immigration policy and regulation.
“That’s one more opinion,” said John Bouma, a private attorney representing Brewer. “The fact that they brought the claim doesn’t mean they are correct.”
The large ceremonial courtroom at the main federal courthouse in Phoenix was packed with more than 100 spectators as the hearing began. More than a dozen lawyers were in place along two L-shaped tables, evenly divided between each side. The jury box was filled with law clerks for judges who work in the building who came to observe.
Since Brewer signed the measure into law April 23, it has inspired rallies in Arizona and elsewhere by advocates on both sides of the immigration debate. Some opponents ha ve advocated a tourism boycott of Arizona.
It also led an unknown number of illegal immigrants to leave Arizona for other American states or their home countries and prompted the Obama administration to file a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the law.
Salgado’s attorneys argue the judge should block the law before it takes effect because it would require an officer to use race as a primary factor in enforcing the law and because the state law is trumped by federal immigration law.
Attorneys for Brewer asked that the officer’s lawsuit be thrown out because Salgado doesn’t allege a real threat of harm from enforcing the new law and instead bases his claim on speculation. They also said the state law prohibits racial profiling and that it isn’t trumped by federal immigration law because it doesn’t attempt to regulate the conditions under which people can enter and leave the country.
The other challenges to the law were filed by the U.S. Department of Justic e, civil rights organizations, clergy groups, a researcher from Washington and a Tucson police officer.
Bolton plans to hold similar hearings July 22 in the lawsuits filed by the federal government and civil rights groups.