Salvador Reza
Matt York  /  AP
Salvador Reza speaks outside Phoenix City Hall on Tuesday in Phoenix. Community members from the Puente Movement were petitioning the city to not enforce Arizona's immigration bill, SB 1070, which takes effect Thursday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/29/2010 4:26:29 AM ET 2010-07-29T08:26:29

Parts of Arizona's controversial immigration law went into effect Thursday, after a federal judge temporarily blocked the heart of the measure and defused a confrontation between police and thousands of activists that had been building for months.

Coming just hours before the law was to take effect, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton's ruling sets up a lengthy legal battle that could end up before the Supreme Court.

Her decision also ensures that the law that reignited the immigration debate, inspired similar measures nationwide, created fodder for political campaigns and raised tensions with Mexico will stay in the spotlight.

Protesters who gathered at the state Capitol and outside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City cheered when they heard the news. The governor, the law's authors and anti-illegal immigration groups vowed to fight on.

"It's a temporary bump in the road," Gov. Jan Brewer said.

Judge Bolton will now have to decide a question as old as the nation itself: Does federal law trump state law? She indicated in her ruling that the federal government's case has a good chance at succeeding.

The Clinton appointee said the controversial sections should be put on hold until the courts resolve the issues, including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

Key points
Bolton delayed provisions that required immigrants to carry their papers and banned illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places — a move aimed at day laborers. In addition, she blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants for crimes that can lead to deportation.

"Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," Bolton wrote.

The ruling came just as police were making last-minute preparations to begin enforcement of the law and protesters, many of whom said they would not bring identification, were planning large demonstrations against the measure.

At least one group had planned to block access to federal offices, daring officers to ask them about their immigration status.

"I knew the judge would say that part of the law was just not right," said Gisela Diaz, 50, from Mexico City, who came to Arizona on a since-expired tourist visa in 1989 and who waited with her family early Wednesday at the Mexican Consulate to get advice about the law.

"It's the part we were worried about. This is a big relief for us," she said.

Opponents argued the law will lead to racial profiling, conflict with federal immigration law and distract local police from fighting more serious crimes. The U.S. Justice Department, civil rights groups and a Phoenix police officer asked for Wednesday's injunction.

Lawyers for the state contend the law was a constitutionally sound attempt by Arizona to assist federal immigration agents and lessen border woes, such as the heavy costs for educating, jailing and providing health care for illegal immigrants.

They said Arizona shouldn't have to suffer from a broken immigration system when it has 15,000 officers who can arrest illegal immigrants.

In her ruling, Bolton said the interests of Arizona, the busiest U.S. gateway for illegal immigrants, match those of the federal government. But, she wrote, that the federal government must take the lead on deciding how to enforce immigration laws.

The core of the government's case is that federal immigration law trumps state law — an issue known as "pre-emption" in legal circles. In her ruling, Bolton pointed out five portions of the law where she believed the federal government would likely succeed on its claims.

Justice Department spokeswoman Hannah August said the agency understands the frustration of Arizona residents with the immigration system, but added that a patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement.

Federal authorities have argued that letting the Arizona law stand would create a patchwork of immigration laws nationwide that would needlessly complicate foreign relations. They said the law is disrupting U.S. relations with Mexico and other countries.

People 'rising up'
About 100 protesters in Mexico City who had gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy broke into cheers when they learned of Bolton's ruling. They had been monitoring the news on a laptop computer.

"Migrants, hang on, the people are rising up!" they chanted.

Mexico's Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinoza called the ruling "a first step in the right direction" and said staff at the five Mexican consulates in Arizona will work extra hours in coming weeks to educate migrants about the law.

"None of this is very surprising," said Kevin R. Johnson, an immigration expert and the law school dean at University of California at Davis. "This is all very much within the constitutional mainstream."

The federal government has exclusive powers over immigration to ensure a uniform national policy that aids in commerce and relations with other countries, Johnson said.

A century ago, differing policies among states led to problems that prompted the federal government to adopt a comprehensive immigration policy for the country, Johnson said.

Supporters took solace that the judge kept portions of the law intact, including a section that bars local governments from limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws. Those jurisdictions are commonly known as "sanctuary cities."

"Striking down these sanctuary city policies has always been the No. 1 priority," said Republican Sen. Russell Pearce, the law's chief author.

Resident speaks out
The remaining provisions, many of them procedural and revisions to an Arizona immigration statute, took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

The decision was seen as a defeat for Brewer, who is running for another term in November and has seen her political fortunes rise because of the law's popularity among conservatives.

Her opponent, state Attorney General Terry Goddard, pounced.

"Jan Brewer played politics with immigration, and she lost," the Democrat said. "It is time to look beyond election-year grandstanding and begin to repair the damage to Arizona's image and economy."

Some residents in Phoenix agreed.

"A lot of people don't understand the connection between, 'Yes, we have a problem with illegal immigration' and 'We need immigration reform,' which is not just asking people for their papers," said Kimber Lanning, a 43-year-old Phoenix music store owner.

"It was never a solution to begin with."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Judge blocks parts of Ariz. immigration law

  1. Transcript of: Judge blocks parts of Ariz. immigration law

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But let's begin with serious news, a federal judge 's decision to strike down the highly controversial parts of Arizona 's immigration law . NBC 's justice correspondent Pete Williams has the very latest. Good morning to you, Pete .

    PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Good morning, Meredith . The judge did leave some parts of that law intact, but she said Arizona could not go ahead with what police statewide were preparing to start doing this morning, stepping up checks for illegal immigrants. Immigrant groups cheered the ruling, calling it a victory for civil rights. It blocked a state law due to go into effect this morning that required police making arrests or traffic stops to check the immigration status of anyone they suspected was here illegally. Those arrested were to be held until their legal status was verified. In an exclusive interview with NBC 's Ann Curry , Vice President Joe Biden said the ruling sends the right message.

    Vice President JOE BIDEN: We don't think you can have 50 different immigration laws out there. We don't think you can have -- I think it actually is damaging rather than helps enforcing our immigration laws .

    WILLIAMS: Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the Arizona law would interfere with federal immigration law , which states are not allowed to do. She said it would require police to do so many more checks on people suspected of being here illegally that it would overwhelm the federal government , diverting attention from catching criminals or potential terrorists. The judge also said it would lead to detention for people who are here legally, including US citizens, while their immigration status was checked. Arizona 's governor, Jan Brewer , vowed to appeal and said the legal fight is far from over.

    Governor JAN BREWER: It obviously is a little bump in the road, I believe.

    WILLIAMS: But legal scholars say given that the law has yet to be enforced, the state probably will not get quick legal results.

    Professor STEPHEN VLADECK (American University Law School): The fact that the injunction preserves the status quo means that we won't see any immediacy to this. I think we won't see Arizona , at least, having a strong argument that this has to be resolved overnight.

    WILLIAMS: For now, even though the law requiring checks for illegal immigrants is on hold, some Arizona officials say police can still do those checks voluntarily.

    Sheriff JOE ARPAIO (Maricopa County, Arizona): We arrest people every day for all types of violations, and if they're here illegally we're going to take action. So really, nothing has changed.

    WILLIAMS: The state's next stop is the Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco , probably later today. And whoever loses there will almost certainly urge the US Supreme Court to get involved, Meredith .

    VIEIRA: All right, Pete Williams , thank you very much . It is 7:04, and here's Matt.

    MATT LAUER, co-host: All right, Meredith , thank you.

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