It isn't Arizona that's interfering with enforcement of the nation's immigration laws, it's the federal government, the state's lawyers claimed, as a federal judge in Phoenix heard several hours of argument Thursday over a strict new immigration law due to take effect next week.
The Justice Department urged U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to block the law, arguing that states cannot establish their own immigration policies if they would interfere with federal enforcement of the nation's immigration laws. Arizona's law would divert attention from the federal approach, government lawyers argued, which concentrates on illegal immigrants of greatest concern, such as those who have committed other crimes and constitute a threat to public safety.
In their written briefs, the government's lawyers also argued that the Arizona law would complicate relations with other countries, interfering with foreign policy, a uniquely a federal responsibility. Mexico and several other Central and South American countries filed friend of court briefs opposing the Arizona law.
It requires Arizona police making arrests or traffic stops to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. Those arrested could not be released until police verify their immigration status by checking with federal authorities.
Arizona lawyers, in their written submissions, claimed that the state is not acting contrary to federal law and is instead working to pick up the slack resulting from the federal government's limited enforcement of laws passed by Congress.
"Arizona merely seeks to assist with the enforcement of existing federal immigration laws in a constitutional manner," the state argued. It is the federal government, Arizona said, "that is attempting to impose immigration policies and priorities that contravene and conflict with federal law and unambiguous congressional intent."
The judge has not said whether she would issue a ruling before the law takes effect July 29th.