With Ruling, Battle Over Arizona Immigration Law Enters New Phase

Tucson, Ariz. – A federal judge’s decision Wednesday to halt key elements of the Arizona immigration law before they took effect moves the battle over the law into a new and perhaps less visceral phase, with both sides saying time is on their side.

Backers of the law view the preliminary injunction that Judge Susan Bolton issued as a bump in the road, preventing some portions of the statute from being implemented as the legal fight continues.

“SB 1070 [the law] is a grassroots movement and the law has been an evolutionary movement forward,” says Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Meanwhile, opponents of the law note that Judge Bolton’s injunction is temporary.

“It’s a partial victory,” says Isabel Garcia, a Tucson attorney and activist.

While the conclusion of the winding legal path ahead is far from clear, Wednesday’s decision does appear to have temporarily stilled some of the anger and emotion that has surrounded the issue since the spring.

Some of the law’s supporters said they had no plans to mount large protests of the decision. At the same time, Bolton’s decision to stop implementation of the law’s most controversial feature – requiring police to determine the status of suspects believed to be in the country illegally – has taken a measure of urgency out of anti-SB 1070 protests planned for Thursday. Opponents had feared that that section of the law would lead to racial profiling against Hispanics.

Although vigils, rallies, and protests will go ahead throughout the state Thursday, Ms. Garcia admits the anxiety and tension that opponents felt in anticipation has lost some intensity.

For opponents like Garcia, the challenge now is to keep Wednesday’s momentum alive. “We have not won the lawsuit. We have not won in the court of public opinion; we have to engage this country in a meaningful dialogue about immigration issues,” Garcia says. “The fact that they cannot make a person a criminal … because you don’t have papers or because you want to work – it’s a huge issue.”

That begins with the protests Thursday.

“This is not a full victory for us,” says Sarahi Uribe, who is affiliated with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and will still take part in the Phoenix protests. “SB 1070 is a symptom of a larger problem.”

For supporters of the law, Wednesday’s setback was just one step of a long process.

“We’re resilient people,” says Kelly Townsend, president of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party. “We’re determined, and this is nothing to be dissuaded about.”

Ms. Townsend and others say they are prepared to take the case all the way to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

Mr. Dane of FAIR called the judge’s decision a “mixed bag” but a step in the right direction toward full implementation of the law on appeal. Dane and others say the statute is needed to get a handle on illegal immigration because the federal government has failed to do so.

“Immigration enforcement has to occur at one level or the other, and if the Obama administration is unwilling to do it, the states have to step up to the plate,” he says. “That’s what Arizona did.”

The court decision brought some relief to Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor, who, along with the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, expressed his opposition to the law because he feels the law will erode community support and hamper investigations.

Enforcing immigration laws is federal responsibility, he says, and “should not be done in piecemeal fashion or on the back of law enforcement.”