GWEN IFILL: Arizona’s tough immigration law would have empowered local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspected was in the U.S. illegally, even if they were detained on unrelated charges.
But a federal judge ruled today the state was, in effect, usurping, the federal government’s role.
Ray Suarez has been reporting the story from Phoenix, and he joins us now.
Welcome, Ray. Good to see you.
RAY SUAREZ: Gwen, good talk to you.
All during the week, pressure was mounting. People on both sides of the question were waiting for Thursday to test the proposition: Could a law like this be enforced in the state of Arizona without preempting federal power and without abusing the civil rights of the people of Arizona?
And on different sides of the question, you got all different answers. The whisper date for actions from the federal court judge in this case, Susan Bolton, had been yesterday. And there were a lot of rumors running through Phoenix that she was going to rule that certain parts of the law would not go into effect tonight, in nine hours.
Well, what happened was a little surprising bit on all counts. There are several key provisions of the bill that will not take effect at 12:01 a.m., Mountain Standard Time, here in Phoenix.
And they are, specifically, the requirement that an officer ascertain the immigration status of someone he encounters while enforcing other laws. Even if it’s found that the first cause, the traffic stop, the investigation of an assault in progress, turns out not to be an actual, bona fide crime, he still must check on the immigration status. That won’t go into effect.
Creating a crime in Arizona to not carry immigration documents will not go into effect. Creating a crime for someone living in the country illegally to look for or actually perform employment will not take effect.
These and other provisions were identified by Judge Bolton as those that would likely be struck down on later appeal in other parts of the federal court system. So, she did not want them to take effect.
But, interestingly, several other parts of the law will be — come into force in nine hours. And they include Arizona laws cracking down on employers who solicit, hire and pay people who are living in the country illegally, Arizona laws regarding the seizure and forfeiture of vehicles that are used to transport illegal immigrants around the state, and laws that attempt to crack down on the solicitation of work by day laborers in the public street.
So, it’s sort of a mixed bag for people who were opponents and supporters of the bill.
GWEN IFILL: Yes. Ray, you’ve been spending a lot of time while you’ve been there this week talking to people about this bill and the debate around it. To what extent has the proximity of the violence we have seen across the border in Mexico driven a lot of the debate here and driven a lot of the anxiety?
RAY SUAREZ: You know, people who support and oppose this law, you can’t get more than a minute or two minutes into a conversation with them before they allude to what’s going on just over the border from Arizona.
People are very well aware of it, and people are very well aware of the human traffic that is flowing over the Arizona-Mexico border across some of the most inhospitable landscape the United States has to offer, the people who are dying, the people who are being picked up close to death by law enforcement officials in some of those rural counties.
People on all sides of the question are very well aware that Arizona has a problem and a challenge with illegal immigration, but they differ on how to address it.
GWEN IFILL: But this was a state law. Was there any sense in passing and in trying to enact this law that this was going to become such a national issue?
RAY SUAREZ: I talked to the majority leader of the state house of representatives, and he told me he was stunned that this has gotten the kind of play that it’s gotten in other parts of the country. He was shocked that it’s gotten the attention that it’s gotten from pro-immigrant-rights activists and from other state legislatures that want to pass similar laws.
He said the earth is not going shift under our feet. The sun is still going to come up when SB-1070 takes effect. He was shocked because Arizona has already been moving the ball downfield, addressing some of its internal laws regarding people who are living and working in the country illegally. And those had not been challenged. They had been upheld.
And he assumed that this was going to get the same kind of treatment. He’s surprised, but he’s not backing off on his support of the law.
GWEN IFILL: Does this debate break down there the way it does here in Washington, along kind of conventional liberal-conservative lines?
RAY SUAREZ: Well, really, you would think that you were talking about two different states, two different countries, and two different laws as you spoke to people who were looking at this shared landscape from their different vantage points.
For immigrants, there was no question that this was going to lead to racial profiling, that there was no way to enforce this law without using racial profiling as a tool in making those inquiries about someone’s immigration status.
And for supporters of the law, they referred to the training that local law enforcement had gotten, their experience in previous years in working with federal immigration officials in enforcing federal law, and said that the things that were being threatened, the things that were being speculated about simply were not going to happen.
But again, Gwen, I have to stress one of the most fascinating parts of covering this story was how diametrically opposed, how little common ground there was in discussing this law among the people who had staked out their opposite territory.
GWEN IFILL: Well, thank you, Ray.
We are going to talk a little bit more about that right now, because Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the immigration law in April. She conceded, today’s ruling was a setback, but said the state would appeal the judge’s decision all the way to the Supreme Court.
GOV. JAN BREWER,(R-Ariz.): Obviously, it’s a little bump in the road, I believe, and that, until I get my whole arms around it, we don’t really exactly know where we’re going to go. We knew, regardless of what happened today, of course, that one side or the other side was going to appeal. So, this begins the process.