A judge is mulling arguments over whether she’ll let the most contentious section of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law take effect after opponents of the statute told her that it will lead to racial profiling and prolonged detentions of Latinos.
The law’s opponents are trying to thwart a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will let police enforce a requirement that officers, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally.
Lawyers for Gov. Jan Brewer said at a court hearing Tuesday that the law’s opponents haven’t shown that enforcement of the questioning requirement will lead to racial profiling or prolonged detentions.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton didn’t make a ruling on the request and didn’t say when the requirement could take effect.
The coalition of opponents is seeking to shelve the requirement on other grounds, including an allegation that lawmakers had discriminatory intent against Latinos when they passed the law. The coalition’s lawyer has cited a 2007 email sent from the legislative email account of then-Sen. Russell Pearce, the law’s top advocate, to Pearce’s personal email account that said illegal immigration of Spanish-speakers puts the country’s status as an English-speaking nation at risk.
“It’s like importing leper colonies and hope we don’t catch leprosy,” the email stated. “It’s like importing thousands of Islamic jihadists and hope they adapt to the American dream.” Pearce has said the leprosy reference was from material written by a man in Colorado. Pearce has denied discriminatory intent in championing the law and said that the civil rights groups falsely portray him as a racist.
“If you can show that (race) was a motivating consideration, it’s the equivalent of legislative poison, and the law must be stopped,” Karen Tumlin, an attorney for the coalition, said outside of court.
John Bouma, who is defending the law on the governor’s behalf, said outside court that there are too many respected lawmakers to believe the allegation made by opponents. “My understanding of why this legislation went through is that people were worried about illegal immigration, and there is good reason to be concerned about illegal immigration,” Bouma said.
Legal experts say the opponents face an uphill battle in trying to persuade Bolton to bar enforcement of the requirement because the lower courts might want to wait until the requirement is enforced to consider actual injuries from the law, rather than confront the potential for harm.
Even if opponents don’t succeed in getting the requirement put on hold, some backers of the law are questioning the level of cooperation they will get from federal immigration authorities, who will be called to verify people’s immigration status and be responsible for picking up illegal immigrants from local officers.
Federal immigration officers have said they will help, but only if doing so conforms to their priorities, including catching repeat violators and identifying and removing those who threaten public safety and national security.
If federal agents decline to pick up illegal immigrants, local officers in some cases will likely have to let them go unless they’re suspected of committing a crime that would require them to be brought to jail.