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Arizonans React to Court Ruling as Limited Immigration Law Takes Effect

Residents of the Western U.S. state of Arizona reacted Thursday to a federal judge's ruling that blocked key parts of a controversial state immigration law.

Judge Bolton temporarily blocked some of the broad powers that the law would have given local police in immigration enforcement, which under the US constitution is a federal responsibility. The blocked measures would have allowed police to demand proof of legal residence from those stopped or arrested, when there was reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally.

Arizona governor Jan Brewer has appealed the ruling, saying the U.S. government has not been doing its job.

The law's opponents celebrated in Phoenix and in the border town of Nogales.

At Nogales police headquarters, Captain Heriberto Zuniga sorted out the parts of the law that are blocked and those that remain in effect. He says that not a lot will change because his department has always cooperated with the Border Patrol in reporting those who have apparently crossed the border illegally.

"We will literally have a Border Patrol vehicle at our traffic stop or at our location where we came in contact with these individuals within three to eight minutes," he said.

This border town is ground zero for illegal immigration, and Nogales senior officer Mario Morales says the hills are filled with human smugglers and drug traffickers. He points to a road at the end of town. "This roadway leads right into the mountains south of here," he states. "Everything south of here leads into Mexico."

He says the road and surrounding canyons are used by those with smuggling contraband or people.

Without evidence of a crime, he has limited ability to hold anyone he suspects of entering the country illegally.

"They say, I'm walking away, and it's happened to me, they walk away," Moralas recalls, "I cannot legally detain them. Now, if they've violated any kind of Arizona law, any kind of Arizona statute, committed any crime, then by law I can detain them."

Opponents of the disputed Arizona law say that immigration enforcement should rest with federal officials. Others says stronger measures are needed to stop illegal migrants.

Legal analyst Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, law school says the Arizona case is far from finished. "No matter what the federal court of appeals argues," he says, "whoever loses there is going to seek United States Supreme Court review."

In Nogales, Mexican immigrant Arturo Cuauatcomc says it is time for Arizonans to leave the divisive law behind and come together. "Together we could make Arizona the best state. Together, no separation. So just think about that," he states.

In Washington, congressional Democrats, including Representative Nydia Velazquez (Democrat, New York), urged other states to leave immigration to federal officials.

But others complain that Washington has left local officials to sort out the problem.

The courts will decide the fate of the Arizona statute, including its blocked provisions, and here along the border, police say they will do what they can under existing law to help the federal government do its job.