Court Blocks Implementation of Key Sections of Arizona’s Racial Profiling Law

Still deeply concerned that a law in Arizona requiring police officers to question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally will lead to racial profiling and could affect the entire border region, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties applauds today’s decision by district court judge Susan Bolton enjoining key provisions in the law from going into effect. The ruling supports similar claims made by the ACLU in a separate lawsuit challenging the discriminatory measure.

The ACLU welcomes the court’s decision to block SB 1070’s most egregious constitutional flaws. The ruling to enjoin major sections of the law will help protect all residents of Arizona against discrimination and racial profiling. The law, due to go into effect tomorrow, turns unlawful presence, which is a federal civil law offense, into a state crime, and requires police to question and arrest people they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Judge Bolton rightly ordered the law’s most controversial provisions to face more intense legal scrutiny, including the sections that called for police officers to check a person’s immigration status when enforcing other laws, that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and that made it illegal for undocumented individuals to work at all. The order also blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of individuals suspected of engaging in conduct that makes them deportable.

Relying on decades-old legal precedent, the judge wrote, “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.” Saying that since the determination of whether a particular offense makes an alien removable from the United States is substantially complex and is ultimately made by a federal judge, she said, “[T]here is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens. By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose,” adding that the Justice Department is likely to succeed on the merits of showing that this section of the controversial law is preempted by federal law.

The Obama Administration deserves praise for taking a principled stand in challenging this law, even as it has faced pressure to remain silent on the issue.

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