Federal Judge OKs Controversial Provision in Arizona Immigration Law

Federal judge says authorities can now check immigration status when enforcing other laws.

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Police officers in Arizona can start enforcing one of the most contentious provisions of the state's highly controversial immigration law, after a federal court ruling Wednesday left standing a statute dubbed the "show me your papers" provision.

The provision, which requires police to verify the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants while enforcing other laws, has been at the center of a fierce two-year legal battle going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the requirement in June.

Opponents lobbied to block the section of the law, but the ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton Wednesday paves the way for authorities to begin instituting the requirement, which will likely go into effect in the next several days.

In her ruling, Bolton cited the Supreme Court's decision and said the provision "cannot be challenged further on its face before the law takes effect."

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That leaves the door open for other challenges to the law's constitutionality, especially arguments that the law leads to civil rights violations, according to the Associated Press. However, to pursue that avenue, attorneys need actual victims.

"We're watching and we're looking for cases," Lydia Guzman, head of Respect/Respeto, a Phoenix-based group that tracks racial profiling, told the AP.

But the law's author, former state Sen. Russell Pearce, doesn't expect local police will suddenly change their behavior once the requirement kicks in and start profiling supposed illegal immigrants. He sees checking immigration status as just another part of the job.

"It's not that we want people in jail," he said. "I'm not asking for roundups. I'm not asking for anything but paying attention and doing your job."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the law in 2010, also expressed confidence in Arizona law enforcement.

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"It is not enough that this law be enforced," she said. "It must be enforced efficiently, effectively, and in harmony with the Constitution and civil rights. I have no doubt Arizona's law enforcement officers are up for the task ahead."

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, one of the most vocal supporters of pursuing illegal immigrants, said Wednesday's ruling doesn't change anything. According to him, his deputies already check the immigration status of people they encounter, and Arpaio expects no differences except perhaps an increased number of lawsuits.

Although Arizona has been given the go-ahead to start implementing the provision, experts say the state will have to walk on eggshells, and this most recent ruling probably won't be the last time the issue is heard in court.

"If the state's savvy at all, it's going to be very cautious," Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor, told the AP. "To the extent it's not, it's going to be very vulnerable."

Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at mhandley@usnews.com and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.