Federal judge blocks key parts of Arizona immigration law

A federal judge has halted the most controversial elements of Arizona’s new immigration law, which had been scheduled to take effect at midnight.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Wednesday halted implementation of the parts of the law that require police to determine the status of people they stop and think are in the country illegally. She also forbade the state from charging anyone for a new crime of failing to possess immigration documents.

Bolton’s ruling found that the Obama administration was likely to prevail at trial in proving the two provisions, and two other ones in the sweeping law, were an unconstitutional attempt by Arizona to regulate immigration. Arizona is expected to immediately appeal the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

As the clock ticked down toward the implementation of the law known as SB 1070, tensions had been rising as both sides braced for confrontations in the streets and waited to see how — and if — the judge would rule before the was to take effect Thursday.

ruled on requests from civil rights lawyers and the Obama administration to halt the law, known as SB 1070. It requires police to determine the status of people they stop and also think are in the country illegally. The law also makes it a state crime to lack immigration documents.

Busloads of demonstrators were arriving from Los Angeles and were expected to join large numbers of locals protesting the measure Thursday morning. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — whose campaign against illegal immigrants has made him a widely popular, if controversial, figure here — had said he would open a new section of his outdoor tent jail that he is dubbing “Section 1070,” where he intended to house illegal immigrants detained as a result of the law.

Arpaio, whose downtown high-rise offices were to be targeted by demonstrators on Thursday, released a statement before Bolton’s ruling warning that he would not tolerate lawbreakers. “Activists and their celebrity sympathizers who wish to target this community and this sheriff by attempting to disrupt our jail and patrol operations will be unsuccessful, as we will be fully prepared to meet those challenges head-on with appropriately staffed personnel and resources,” he said.

Several police officials expected no dramatic changes in operations Thursday. Police already check the immigration status of people they book into jail or people who lack a valid U.S. ID.

Still, there remained confusion about what some of the law’s provisions mean. The Phoenix and Tucson police departments have directed their officers to hold anyone arrested until the federal government verifies their immigration status. The chiefs of both departments opposed the law, and supporters of the measure have argued that the chiefs have tried to sabotage it through an overly literal interpretation.

The law does state, however, that “any person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before the person is released.” An attorney for Gov. Jan Brewer acknowledged in court last week that the provision is “inartfully” written but argued it is not that broad. However, the state’s official training guidelines say it’s unclear what the provision really means and that each department will have to make its own interpretation.