The ruling by a federal judge temporarily preventing key parts of the controversial Arizona immigration law from taking effect highlights the constitutional problems with the state's approach. Judge Susan Bolton explained that the law intruded on federal authority over immigration matters and put legal immigrants at risk of being subject to unjust arrest and detention. This should cause Florida politicians who would like to bring something similar here to rethink their strategy. Arizona is appealing, but this draconian approach to illegal immigration is not only wrongheaded but unconstitutional.
The judge's ruling signals that the Obama administration likely will prevail when the full case is presented. Bolton agreed that the most radioactive elements of the new law — those that require Arizona's policing agencies to verify the immigration status of anyone lawfully stopped and who is reasonably suspected of being an illegal immigrant — were pre-empted by federal immigration law.
Bolton outlined the reasons why the federal government has the exclusive right to set a uniform immigration policy. A hodgepodge of differing state rules that hassle legal immigrants and American citizens — subjecting them to the possibility of arrest or detention — may disrupt international relationships, create animosities and endanger American citizens living abroad. Under long-standing federal immigration policy, as Bolton noted, legal immigrants may not have their papers routinely demanded and checked. Yet that is what the Arizona law required by making it a state crime for immigrants to not carry documents that proved their legal status.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, signed Florida on to an amicus brief in support of the Arizona law. He, like the many other Florida politicians who are demagoguing the issue, see it as an election-year winner. But just because something is popular doesn't make it right. Americans are understandably frustrated that more hasn't been done by Washington to address the problem of illegal immigration. But the approach by Arizona in making suspects of all immigrants was a step too far. One federal judge has now said so, and undoubtedly more will follow.