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Arizona: US Court Blocks Immigration Law's Worst Aspects

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By Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) - A ruling by a US district court in Arizona on July 28, 2010, will temporarily block enforcement of the most problematic provisions of Arizona's recent law targeting immigrants, Human Rights Watch said today.

Under the temporary order issued by Judge Susan Bolton, law enforcement officers in Arizona will not be required to arrest people for "reasonable suspicion" of unlawful presence, and it will not be a state crime for immigrants to fail to carry identity documents. The US brought a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, contending that these provisions of the Arizona law, SB 1070, violate the federal government's exclusive power over immigration.

"The federal court ruling throws a monkey wrench, at least temporarily, into the worst parts of a discriminatory law," said Alison Parker, US program director at Human Rights Watch. "In truth, Arizona needs to repeal the whole thing, and similar bills under consideration in other states should be defeated."

Human Rights Watch said that the enjoined provisions of the Arizona immigration law violate the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the United States ratified in 1994. The treaty requires all government officials, including those at the state and local level, to ensure that their policies do not have the effect of discriminating against persons on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin. The treaty places an obligation on the US government not to engage in discrimination and to "ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation."

In January, the US State Department's legal adviser, Harold Koh, wrote to all state governors, including Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, making them aware of their obligations under the treaty.

At the end of its session in April, the Arizona legislature passed a bill, HB 2162, to amend SB 1070. The amendments tried to inoculate SB 1070 from criticisms that it promoted racial profiling by, for example, inserting three statements that law enforcement officials "may not consider race" when enforcing SB 1070. However, the law still allowed reasonable suspicion of unlawful presence to be based on the language skill, dress, and demeanor of the person stopped by police, Human Rights Watch said.

"No amount of repetition that the law won't consider race can sanitize legislation that at its core forces police to profile Latino residents," Parker said.

The immigration law that will take effect on July 29 includes provisions encouraging increased cooperation between Arizona law enforcement and federal immigration authorities and increasing criminal penalties for activities related to employing unauthorized immigrants.

"The federal court's ruling cuts out the most egregious provisions," Parker said, "But the Arizona law remains deeply problematic."


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