Arizona immigration law 101: seven lawsuits, and counting

A federal judge on Thursday hears two lawsuits challenging the tough Arizona immigration law, including the one filed by the Obama administration. Here's a look at the law and the seven cases against it.

By , Staff writer

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    This image is taken from a hour-long Arizona police training video being sent to all 170 Arizona police agencies. The video is to help officers enforce the state’s controversial – and widely popular – new immigration law.
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On April 23, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into law the nation's toughest bill on illegal immigration. The Arizona immigration law, aimed at identifying, prosecuting, and deporting illegal immigrants, is slated to go into effect July 29.

Immediate protests followed the signing of the bill, and President Obama criticized the statute, calling for a federal overhaul of immigration to avoid "irresponsibility by others."

What does the Arizona immigration law do, exactly?

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The law requires state and local law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of people they encounter, and makes it a state crime to be without proper immigration documentation.

In May, Arizona legislators revised the bill, specifying that law enforcement may question someone's status only if they have already stopped that individual for another reason.

Why is the law so controversial?

Critics say the statute will turn city and state police into racial profilers who stop people because of their skin color rather than for actual infractions. Some police have expressed concern that the immigrant population will turn against them, drying up community goodwill and making people less likely to cooperate as informants or witnesses in court.

Mr. Obama said the law "threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans."

Such charges infuriate its defenders, who see no reason that state and local police shouldn't be involved in enforcing the law of the land – especially laws that, they say, the United States is not enforcing very well.

Who is challenging the law in court?

Seven suits have been filed in federal court against the Arizona immigration law. They may ultimately be consolidated into fewer cases, but here's the current list:

•Salgado v. Brewer (filed April 29). Chicanos Por La Causa and a US citizen employed as a patrol officer for the Phoenix Police Department allege that the law is preempted by federal law and violates the Constitution's supremacy clause.

In a court hearing July 15, the state sought to have the suit dismissed, saying the police officer has experienced no harm as a consequence of Arizona's law and thus has no legal standing. The officer's lawyers argued he would be fired for failure to enforce the law, which would require him to practice racial profiling, and urged the judge to block it from taking effect.

United States v. State of Arizona (filed July 6). The US brought suit against Arizona, arguing that the state law is preempted by federal law and violates the supremacy clause of the US Constitution. It was scheduled to be heard Thursday.

•Frisancho v. Brewer (filed April 27). A US citizen living in the District of Columbia who plans to visit Arizona alleges due process violations of both the US and Arizona constitutions, as well as other violations of the US Constitution.

•Escobar v. Brewer (filed April 29). A naturalized citizen employed as a police officer with the Tucson Police Department alleges that the Arizona statute is preempted by federal law; conflicts with a 1987 US Supreme Court ruling; violates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments; and violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders v. State of Arizona (filed April 29). Two nonprofit groups – including Conclamic Arizona, an organization with 30,000 affiliated churches and a membership of 300 Arizona pastors – as well as US citizens, lawful permanent residents, and others allege the law's proposed class includes "all persons who currently reside in Arizona and find themselves to be negatively affected by the proposed unconstitutional law."

•Friendly House v. Whiting (filed May 17). Several community service organizations, labor unions, a religious organization, and a business association, as well as several individuals (US citizens and noncitizens), allege that Arizona's law unlawfully attempts to regulate immigration and punish those whom the state deems to be in violation of immigration laws.

•LULAC v. Arizona (filed July 9). The League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest and oldest Latino civil rights group in the US, charges that the guidelines laid out in law enforcement training materials for Arizona's immigration law will lead to racial profiling.

The same federal judge in Arizona is set to hear at least six of the cases.

Who is the judge presiding over these cases?

US District Judge Susan Bolton, nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 2000, will preside. One of her first orders of business will be to decide whether to grant a motion to temporarily block the law from taking effect on July 29.

In a March ruling on a complaint over the sound of church bells in Phoenix, Judge Bolton said neighbors' arguments were important, but the interests of free speech and religious expression were more important.

What is the public's view of Arizona's law?

Several polls show that a majority of Americans back Arizona's immigration law. One of the most recent, a Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll released July 12, found that 51 percent of US adults support Arizona's law as it stands, compared with 35 percent who support the Obama administration's case against Arizona.

Governor Brewer on May 26 created a private defense fund to pay the law firm she hired to defend the law. As of July 14, private donors from across the US had given $1.2 million.

Are other states considering similar laws?

As of June 30, similar bills had been introduced in five states: South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Michigan.

Resolutions opposing the Arizona law have been introduced in the California Senate, Illinois House, and New York Senate, while Tennessee passed a resolution in June commending Arizona for the law. In the Michigan House, resolutions have been introduced both for and against Arizona's law.

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