A crackdown on illegal immigration in Arizona was thrown into a state of limbo yesterday, as a judge at the State Capitol in Phoenix put almost every one of its most controversial measures on hold, just 14 hours before they had been due to take effect.
The temporary injunction issued by Judge Susan Bolton shortly after 10am left supporters of the now-notorious Senate Bill 1070 facing a protracted legal battle to enact their proposed legislation, which has recently been at the centre of a heated national debate.
It prevents four of the most widely-criticised elements of the bill from taking effect, including a hugely contentious provision which would have required police across the state to stop, question, and possibly arrest anyone they "reasonably suspect" of having entered the US illegally.
Opponents had claimed in court that such a move would have led to the racial stereotyping of anyone who happens to have dark skin, since members of the Latino community make up the vast majority of the estimated 460,000 unlawful residents of Arizona, which shares several hundred miles of its southern border with Mexico.
They had also challenged passages in the bill which required immigrants to carry identification papers with them at all times, forced police to enquire about the immigration status of every single person they arrest, and made it legal to arrest a suspected illegal immigrant without a warrant.
In her temporary ruling, Judge Bolton said that it was likely that these elements of the Bill would represent an infringement of civil liberties. She also found that opponents of 1070 were "likely to succeed" in any trial where they argued that some of the new laws interfered with the right of the federal government (rather than individual states) to run immigration enforcement.
"Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," Bolton said, in a key passage of the decision.
The judgement represents a huge victory for President Obama, whose administration had sued to stop 1070, and who hopes to enact wholesale immigration reform later this year. When news of it arrived, demonstrators interrupted morning Mass to cheer. Soon afterwards, DJs from a local Spanish-language radio station began playing mariachi music
"A huge hole has now been knocked out of this bill," said Daniel Pochoda, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, who had also sued to prevent 1070 being introduced. "It's only a preliminary injunction, and the case has a long way to run yet, but it's an important victory."
Just a handful of minor provisions in the controversial bill were unaffected by Judge Bolton's ruling, including one aimed at preventing people-smuggling, which makes it a crime to knowingly transport an illegal immigrant.
Supporters of the bill – which has the support of a slender majority of Americans and Arizonans – responded by promising to pursue an appeal all the way to the US Supreme Court, if necessary.
"It's a temporary bump in the road, we will move forward and I'm sure that after consultation with our counsel we will appeal," Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer told Associated Press. "The bottom line is we've known all along that [immigration] is the responsibility of the feds and they haven't done their job so we were going to help them do that."Reuse content