Yesterday, Phoenix district court Judge Susan Bolton enjoined key provisions of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070. The judge recognized that the federal government has primary authority over making and enforcing immigration law, and that while states have limited authority in this arena, they cannot interfere with federal enforcement or undermine federal priorities. The decision acknowledges the complex nature of immigration law and the harmful consequences of local police attempting to make immigration determinations. The judge also recognized the serious strain that the Arizona law would place on federal resources, which would detract from the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws in other states and target resources toward serious criminals.

Judge Bolton struck down the following provisions of SB 1070:

  • Section 2(B): Required officers to check the immigration status of any person arrested, as well as check the immigration status if there was reasonable suspicion after a lawful stop or detention that the person was undocumented.
  • Section 3: Made it a state misdemeanor for failure to carry an alien registration document, and made it a state crime to be unlawfully present in the United States.
  • Part of Section 5: Made it a state misdemeanor for an unauthorized immigrant to apply for, solicit for, or perform work.
  • Section 6 Amendment: Allowed officers to make warrantless arrests provided the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States.

The ruling left SB 1070, which goes into effect today, with the following provisions, among others, still intact:

  • Section 2(G): An Arizona citizen may bring an action against any official or agency of Arizona that does not enforce federal immigration laws to the fullest extent, and pay a penalty of $1,000 to $5,000 for each day that the policy was in effect.
  • Section 4: Makes it a felony to intentionally smuggle human beings for profit.
  • Section 5: Makes it a misdemeanor to stop on a street and attempt to hire or pick up passengers for work at a different location if the vehicle blocks traffic. Also makes it a misdemeanor to be the person picked up in such a motor vehicle.
  • Section 5: Makes it a misdemeanor for a person already in violation of a criminal offense to transport undocumented immigrants, conceal undocumented immigrants, or encourage undocumented immigrants to reside in the United States.

The provisions struck down by the judge do not prevent law enforcement from addressing the real threats to public safety in Arizona, like drug smuggling and violence. It’s about time the Governor returned focus and resources back to real remedies that will improve the lives of Arizonans instead of playing campaign politics with such an important issue.

Sadly, SB 1070 has always been more about politics than good policy. This was most evident immediately following Judge Bolton’s ruling when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced her plans to appeal the decision and simultaneously used the opportunity to solicit donations for her re-election campaign. Similarly, Senator John McCain seized on the political opportunity by issuing a joint statement with Senator John Kyl decrying the decision:

We are deeply disappointed in the court’s ruling today and disagree with the court’s opinion that the Arizona’s law will unduly ‘burden’ the enforcement of federal immigration law. “Instead of wasting tax payer resources filing a lawsuit against Arizona and complaining that the law would be burdensome, the Obama Administration should have focused its efforts on working with Congress to provide the necessary resources to support the state in its efforts to act where the Federal government has failed to take responsibility.” “After this decision, it’s even more important to implement our Ten Point Border Security plan to protect Arizonans and our country.”

The reality is that we are spending more money on border security than ever before, and violent crimes rates in Arizona have been falling for years. Arizonans, like most Americans, are understandably frustrated by our broken immigration system, but usurping federal immigration authority and pushing “attrition through enforcement” legislation isn’t going to solve anything. In fact, it only stands to interfere with community policing and identifying the true threats. Until we have bipartisan support on a real solution like comprehensive immigration reform, we’re going to continue to enforce ourselves in circles.

Photo by Jeffrey Kaye.