ARIZONA, USA (AP) — Arizona authorities can enforce the most contentious section of the state's heavily debated immigration law, according to a federal judge's ruling yesterday regarding a section of the statute that critics have dubbed the "show me your papers" provision.
The ruling by US District Judge Susan Bolton clears the way for police to carry out the requirement that officers, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally.
Arizona Gov Jan Brewer hailed the ruling on what she called "the most critical section" of the state's immigration law.
Critics have assailed the provision as un-American, saying it paves the way for ethnic discrimination and racial profiling, providing officers a justification for stopping people based on how they look.
Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, said the section of the law is "divisive" and will "lead to rampant racial profiling and prolonged detention for countless Latinos, a majority of whom are US citizens and permanent residents."
Proponents say that's a misinterpretation of a law necessary to stop immigrants from illegally coming into the US and using up scant resources. They say there's nothing wrong with being asked to provide identification proving legal status.
Brewer, a Republican, said the ruling "will empower state and local law enforcement, as part of a legal stop or detention, to inquire about an individual's immigration status when the officer has reasonable suspicion."
The provision has been at the centre of a two-year legal battle that resulted in a US Supreme Court decision in June upholding the requirement.
After the nation's highest court weighed in, opponents asked Bolton to block the section of the law, arguing that it would cause systematic discrimination and unreasonably long detentions of Latinos if it's enforced.
Brewer's office, however, urged the judge to let the requirement go into effect, saying the law's opponents were merely speculating in their racial profiling claims. The Republican governor's office also said police have received training to avoid discriminatory practices and that officers must have reasonable suspicion that a person is in the country illegally to trigger the requirement.
In her ruling, Bolton said the court will not ignore the clear direction from the Supreme Court that the provision "cannot be challenged further on its face before the law takes effect." She reiterated the high court's interpretation that the law might be able to be challenged as unconstitutional on other grounds.
The Obama administration's case was based on the argument that federal immigration law trumped Arizona law. The challenge didn't confront racial profiling.
The Obama administration declared a measure of victory after the Supreme Court decision, as the court said local police cannot detain anyone on an immigration violation unless federal immigration officials say so.
President Barack Obama said in the aftermath of the ruling that police should not enforce the provision in a way that undermines civil rights.
"No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like," he said at the time.
Arizona's law, known as SB1070, was passed in 2010 amid voter frustration with the state's role as the busiest illegal entry point into the country. Five other states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah — have adopted variations.
Shortly before the law was to take effect in July 2010, Bolton prevented police from enforcing the questioning requirement and other parts of the statute, ruling the Obama administration would likely succeed in its challenge.
Brewer, who signed the measure, appealed the ruling, lost at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and took her case to the Supreme Court.
Brewer's office said the law is expected to go into effect shortly.
Less controversial sections of the law have been in effect since late July 2010, but have rarely been used.