Federal judge blocks toughest parts of Arizona immigration law

Carina Garcia, 32, of El Mirage, Ariz., said the economy and threat of the immigration law have hurt her jewelry shop.

ALEX LEARY | Times

Carina Garcia, 32, of El Mirage, Ariz., said the economy and threat of the immigration law have hurt her jewelry shop.

EL MIRAGE, Ariz. — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona's immigration law, a last-minute, if temporary, reprieve for opponents who have called the measures extreme and want a federal approach to the problem.

But to Carina Garcia it already feels as if the law has pressed its full weight against her community. "I'm happy today," she said. "But a lot of people here have already left. They're scared."

The shelves at her jewelry and perfume stand in El Mirage, 30 minutes northwest of Phoenix, are barren. Business has dropped off so much that Garcia melted the gold and sold it off. Now she stands mostly alone, a fan stirring Sex and the City perfume into the hot air.

"It's hard to survive," said Garcia, 32, who moved here from Mexico eight years ago and expects to become a U.S. citizen in December.

In Phoenix, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the law could take effect today but not its toughest parts, including sections requiring police officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws and requiring immigrants to carry their papers at all times. Those provisions remain on hold while Bolton continues to hear challenges to the law.

Supporters took solace that the judge kept portions of the law intact, including a section that bars local governments from limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws. Those jurisdictions are commonly known as "sanctuary cities."

"There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens," wrote Bolton, a Clinton appointee. "By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a 'distinct, unusual and extraordinary' burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose."

The ruling injected another layer to the national political debate, ensuring the issue will play a prominent role in upcoming elections.

In Florida, both Republican candidates for governor, Rick Scott and Bill McCollum, criticized the ruling. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink offered up a carefully worded reaction.

"A comprehensive immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government," Sink said. "Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to aggressively crack down on securing our borders and on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said the "fight is far from over." An appeal is planned today and the issue will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's a temporary bump in the road," said Brewer, who signed the legislation in April. Brewer said Arizona should not have to suffer from a broken immigration system when it has 15,000 officers who can arrest illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration, along with civil rights groups and a Phoenix police officer, sued for an injunction, arguing variously that the law usurps federal authority and could lead to racial profiling.

But Brewer has widespread public support, not only in her state but across the country. A poll released Tuesday by CNN showed 55 percent of people favor the measure. A poll conducted in May for the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald showed 58 percent of registered Florida voters would favor such a law.

Arizona is the busiest illegal gateway into the country, and tensions have risen with violence along the border and drug smuggling. But residents say the everyday effects are just as troubling: crowded schools and emergency rooms.

"Even though we spend millions and millions a year teaching these kids English they go home and all that is spoken is Spanish," said Debbie Ross, 46, a special education teacher from Goodyear, a Phoenix suburb. "They want to come here and bring their culture and not adapt."

Ross, who described herself as a conservative Republican, insisted she was not against people coming to the United States. "I just don't want them to be a terrorist and I definitely want them to do it so my government knows as much about them as they do me."

"The cops aren't going to sit here and start picking out people at random. They don't have time for that," said Andrew Sonleitner, a Democrat shopping at a Costco just outside of Phoenix. "There are too many people here illegally, and that should stop."

In tiny El Mirage, where 60 percent of the population is Hispanic, the immigration debate has been highly personal.

Worry over the law has sent people to Colorado and other states or back to Mexico. They are not all illegal; some think that even by allowing an undocumented family member live with them they too will face punishment.

"All my friends are moving," said Juana Vega, 44, a legal resident.

She views the law and the poor economy as dual blows to her vision of a better life in America. Her husband, she said, can no longer find jobs doing stucco work since homes are not being built. She got a job cleaning houses, but that has dried up as legions of seasonal residents went north for the summer.

Now Vega, her husband and two daughters may lose their own home. "It's hard, this situation," she said, pulling off her sunglasses to wipe away tears.

Ramon Medina, a 78-year-old in a Philadelphia Eagles hat, said he fought in the Army in Korea and feels like the United States is kicking him while it seeks to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Many of those workers, he said, are doing the backbreaking, undesirable jobs Americans do not want. "The U.S. is strong because of all the people," Medina said. "This is racist."

At a Walmart down the street, Eric Lowry, 36, was strapping a couch into the back of his Nissan pickup. "I have nothing against the Mexicans," he said. "They are hard working and are dedicated to family.

"But if you're in the country illegally, you shouldn't be here. I'm confused why this is such a big deal, other than maybe it's an election year."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Alex Leary can be reached at leary@sptimes.com.

Federal judge blocks toughest parts of Arizona immigration law 07/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 7:50am]

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