PHOENIX — A federal judge pushed back Thursday against a contention by the Obama Justice Department that a tough new Arizona immigration law set to take effect next week would cause “irreparable harm” and intrude into federal immigration enforcement.
“Why can’t Arizona be as inhospitable as they wish to people who have entered or remained in the United States?” U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton asked in a pointed exchange with Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler. Her comment came during a rare federal court hearing in the Justice Department’s lawsuit against Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer (R).
Bolton, a Democratic appointee, also questioned a core part of the Justice Department’s argument that she should declare the law unconstitutional: that it is “preempted” by federal law because immigration enforcement is an exclusive federal prerogative.
“How is there a preemption issue?” the judge asked. “I understand there may be other issues, but you’re arguing preemption. Where is the preemption if everybody who is arrested for some crime has their immigration status checked?”
At issue in Thursday’s hearing, argued in a tan-colored “special proceedings” courtroom” inside the federal courthouse, was whether Bolton would grant a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect while the federal lawsuit proceeds.
As dozens of protesters marched outside, the hearing marked the first round in the Obama administration’s effort to stop the state’s crackdown on illegal immigration. The tension in the courtroom reflected a broader national debate over what has become a political divisive issue: whether police should have the power to question people they suspect are in the United States illegally.