Judge Blocks Key Parts of Immigration Law in Arizona

PHOENIX — A federal judge, ruling on a clash between the federal government and a state over immigration policy, has blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law from going into effect.

in a ruling 
on a law that has rocked politics coast to coast and thrown a spotlight on the border state’s fierce debate over immigration, United States District Court Judge Susan Bolton in Phoenix said some aspects of the law can go into effect as scheduled on Thursday.

But Judge Bolton took aim at the parts of the law that have generated the most controversy, issuing a preliminary injunction against sections that called for officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times.

Judge Bolton put those sections on hold while she continues to hear the larger issues in the challenges to the law.

“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely preempted by federal law to be enforced,” she said.

“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens,” she wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.”

The judge’s decision, which came as demonstrators opposed and supporting the law gathered here and after three hearings in the past two weeks in which she peppered lawyers on both sides with skeptical questions, seemed unlikely to quell the debate.

Just as the law has fueled rhetoric on the campaign trail, Judge Bolton’s ruling seemed destined to do the same, with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, an opponent of the law and a potential rival in a campaign for governor against her, quick to praise the ruling and condemn Ms. Brewer.

“Rather than providing the leadership Arizona needs to solve the immigration problem, Jan Brewer signed a bill she could not defend in court which has led to boycotts, jeopardized our tourism industry and polarized our state,” he said.

Ms. Brewer was traveling in Tucson but was preparing a comment of her own.

The ruling came four days before 1,200 National Guard troops are to report to the Southwest border to assist federal and local law enforcement agencies there, part of the Obama administration’s response to growing anxiety over the border and immigration that has fed support for the law.

Lawyers for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who signed the law and is campaigning on it for election, were expected to appeal, and legal experts predict the case is bound for the United States Supreme Court.

The law, adopted in April, was aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants from entering or remaining in the state.

It coincided with economic anxiety and followed a number of high-profile crimes attributed to illegal immigrants and smuggling, though federal data suggests crime is falling in Arizona, as it is nationally, despite a surge of immigration.

Seven lawsuits have been filed against the law, challenging its constitutionality and alleging it will lead to racial profiling.

The Justice Department lawsuit was among the more high profile, filed after President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the law.

It also lead to mass demonstrations in Phoenix, for and against it, and a national campaign by civil rights groups to boycott the state.

The Mexican government warned its citizens about traveling to the state and filed a brief in court supporting the lawsuits. Its human rights commission was sending inspectors to the border in anticipation of an escalation in deportations.

But the law also has attracted support, with polls showing a majority of Americans support the notion of local police assisting in federal immigration enforcement.

The Obama administration struggled to respond. After the law was adopted it defended its handling of the border and immigration while urging Congress to enact a sweeping change in immigration law.

Judge Bolton conducted three hearings on the lawsuits.

Justice Department lawyers argued the state law amounted to regulation of immigration, the exclusive authority of the federal government. They said the law goes too far in requiring local police to make immigration checks and that federal agencies would be overwhelmed in responding to the requests.