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Arizona suit judge looked at how the law was drafted

One point about Judge Susan Bolton's ruling Wednesday that isn't getting much attention is how she interpreted the new Arizona law before finding that it ran afoul of federal immigration law. It may be a key issue as the case proceeds on appeal.

The most controversial provision in the state law says that "For any lawful stop, detention or arrest," where reasonable suspicion exists that a person is here illegally, an attempt must be made to determine the person's immigration status. The very next sentence says, "Any person who is arrested shall have the person's immigration status determined before the person is released."

What, exactly, does that last sentence mean? Does it mean literally what it says -- that the police must check the immigration status of every single person arrested in Arizona? Or, as lawyers for the state argued, does it apply only to the first part of that section, to those occassions when there's a reasonable suspicion that the person arrested is here illegally?

Judge Bolton concluded it means everybody arrested. It's for that reason that she said the law would sweep so broadly, requiring even U.S. citizens to wait for their immigration status to be confirmed and overwhelming the federal system with police requests for verification of immigration status, shifting the allocation of resources away from federal priorities.

She reached her conclusion, she wrote, by looking at how the state law was originally drafted. In its earlier version, it began, "For any lawful contact," instead of "For any lawful stop, detention or arrest." The second sentence read the same in the earlier version. Therefore, the judge said, because the original version referred simply to "lawful contact," the second sentence, covering "any person who is arrested," was meant to stand alone, not to be limited by the earlier wording.

"The number of requests that will emanate from Arizona as a result of determining the status of every arrestee is likely to impermissibly burden federal resources and redirect federal agencies away from the practices they have established," Judge Bolton said in Thursday's ruling.