updated 4/26/2011 4:29:18 AM ET 2011-04-26T08:29:18

A federal judge ruled Monday that deputies violated the rights of two men who were detained during one of the workplace raids the Phoenix area's controversial sheriff uses to enforce immigration laws.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies stopped Julian and Julio Mora's pickup truck Feb. 11, 2009, near a landscaping company that was being raided in an identity theft investigation.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled that deputies had no reasonable suspicion that the Hispanic men had committed a crime or traffic violation that would have allowed them to be stopped.

Story: Court rules against Arizona immigration law

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Moras, who claimed deputies singled them out along a busy street based on the color of their skin.

Tim Casey, an attorney representing the sheriff's office, told The Arizona Republic that the sheriff's defense was hampered because officials couldn't identify which of the more than 100 deputies at the raid had stopped the Moras.

"Without that, there was no testimony on why they were stopped," Casey said. "It was lack of evidence. They won because there's no evidence on that."

'Total disregard' for rights
The ACLU said Monday's ruling could force significant changes to how Arpaio carries out his immigration enforcement operations, which have included frequent workplace raids and crime sweeps in heavily Latino neighborhoods.

A separate federal lawsuit alleges Arpaio's deputies racially profiled Hispanics in immigration patrols.

"For far too long, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies have carried out these worksite raids in total disregard for people's constitutional rights," ACLU Staff Attorney Annie Lai said in a written statement.

"Today's decision should provide some comfort to citizens of Maricopa County that MCSO is not above the law," she added.

Story: States seek to copy Arizona immigration law

According to Campbell's ruling granting partial summary judgment, the deputies detained the Moras solely because Julian Mora told them he worked at the landscaping company deputies were searching, Handyman Maintenance Inc.

They were handcuffed with zip-ties, brought to the business and forced to wait for three hours until deputies determined they had committed no offense and were legally in the United States.

"The overwhelming evidence in this case shows that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies had absolutely no reason to stop these two men and drag them off to the scene of an immigration raid," said Cecilia Wang, managing attorney of the Immigrants' Rights Project.

The judge found that Maricopa County is liable for the constitutional violations.

A trial is expected to be held later this year to decide other issues including whether the Moras' arrest was racially motivated, whether Arpaio and any deputies are individually liable, and the amount of damages the Moras will receive.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Court upholds ban on Az. immigration law

  1. Closed captioning of: Court upholds ban on Az. immigration law

    >>> and breaking news from arizona . a federal appeals court has upheld a ban on ? enforcing the most controversial part of arizona 's tough new immigration law . nbc news justice correspondent pete williams reports now from the newsroom. pete, tell us about it and what does it mean, what does it mean for that enforcement?

    >> this say 2 - 1 vote by the federal appeals court in california. and it is basically upheld the ban on enforcing this law that was put into effect by a federal judge in arizona last year. you may remember the justice department challenged this tough new arizona law, which would have required police in that state, anytime they made a traffic stop, or any other arrest or stopped people for any reason, anyone they suspected of being in the u.s. illegally was to be held until they could work out with federal officials whether in fact the person had a legal right to be here. and the justice department said, this is a federal matter. it is for the federal government to enforce, not the states. the judge agreed with the government and now today by a 2 - 1 ruling. the federal appeals court agrees as well. so it is going to be up to arizona to decide whether to appeal this to the u.s. supreme court . i would guess it almost certainly will given how popular this law was. and how much the governor out there was behind it. what this means, andrea, is that arizona still cannot enforce the law. it keeps the current ban in effect. and, of course, it is a victory for the obama justice department , which had challenged this law in court.

    >> before they go to the supreme court , if they were to, the 9th circuit is considered a more liberal circuit than some. could they try to get the entire 9th circuit court en banc or there is one more intermediate step but they could go to the supreme court ?

    >> it is your choice for arizona , whoever loses in the three-judge panel has the option of asking the full 9th circuit to look again at this, or they can simply bypass that and go directly to the supreme court . you're right, generally the 9th circuit is considered more liberal, but it is becoming less so as the years go ?by, andrea.

    >> thanks so much, pete williams , breaking news on that big arizona case.

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