PHOENIX - Civil rights groups are making a last-ditch effort to keep a key provision of the state's 2010 immigration law from being enforced as early as next week.
Legal papers filed Friday with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals contend the provision of SB 1070 requiring police to determine if someone is in the U.S. illegally is so racially biased it cannot be allowed to take effect while it is being litigated. They contend allowing the law to be implemented before then would result in "irreparable harm" to Latinos and other minority groups.
The same arguments were rejected earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton. Bolton said she was bound by a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that she was premature in issuing an earlier injunction before the law ever took effect.
But Linton Joaquin, attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, said Bolton was legally wrong in that conclusion. He wants the 9th Circuit to correct her.
Foes of SB 1070, though, are running out of time. Bolton could dissolve her earlier injunction - the one the Supreme Court found flawed - as early as Monday.
At the heart of the fight is what critics call the "papers please" provision of the law. It requires police to question those they have stopped about their immigration status if there is reason to believe they are in this country illegally.
Joaquin pointed out the first round of legal fights - and the first injunction - came in a lawsuit by the Obama administration contending much of SB 1070 was pre-empted by federal law. While the high court ultimately agreed on three of the provisions, the justices found no reason to enjoin this particular section even before anyone got a chance to see how the law would be enforced.
In their June ruling, the justices did warn police agencies in Arizona that if there is evidence SB 1070 results in people being unfairly stopped or detained for long periods of time, they would take another look at the law and potentially bar the state from enforcing it.
Joaquin said it shouldn't be necessary to let police start violating people's rights to put the law on hold. He said the issues raised by his organization, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are different from those raised by the Obama administration.
"Discriminatory intent played a role in the enactment of the law," he said, arguing there is evidence Arizona legislators approved SB 1070 knowing it would adversely affect minorities. He also said there is evidence the requirement for officers to question people they suspect are illegal immigrants "will cause prolonged detention," which is constitutionally prohibited.
Attorneys for the civil rights groups said having state and local police detain possible illegal immigrants is "a mandate inconsistent with federal immigration policy."
Matthew Benson, press aide to Gov. Jan Brewer, said the last-minute bid to block the law is no surprise.
"These groups aligned against SB 1070 are going to do whatever possible to try to keep this duly enacted, publicly supported law from taking effect," he said.
In their legal arguments, the lawyers for foes of the law say there's another reason the courts should bar enforcement of the statute: While there is a danger of individual rights' being violated, they said there is no harm to the state by leaving the law unenforceable for at least a little while longer.
Attorneys for the state have consistently argued there is a harm, particularly from the financial burden on Arizona taxpayers for having to pay for educational and medical services for illegal immigrants, as well as the costs of crimes they commit and having to incarcerate them.
The appellate judges gave no indication when they will consider the request for the injunction.
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