A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Arizona overstepped its bounds with last year’s immigration enforcement law, handing the Obama administration another victory as it tries to squelch states’ efforts on immigration enforcement.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling 2-1, upheld a lower court’s decision that Congress doesn’t want states meddling in immigration. The appeals court said that nullifies Arizona’s attempt to empower local police to detain and question those they suspect are in the country illegally.
Arizona’s attempt last year to step up local enforcement of immigration laws sparked a national debate about immigration, and drew praise and condemnation upon the state.
Fearing the efforts would spread to other states, the Obama administration sued, saying the national government alone has the power to decide how immigration laws are enforced.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the legislation and became its national champion, said the decision “does harm to the safety and well-being of Arizonans who suffer the negative effects of illegal immigration.”
She and state Attorney General Tom Horne said they will pursue an appeal, either to the full 9th Circuit or to the Supreme Court.
The key parts of the law have never gone into effect. A federal district court halted those provisions last year, and they have remained in limbo since that time, pending the outcome of court challenges.
“Arizona has taken a reasonable, constitutional approach to compensate for the administration’s dereliction of duty,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican. “Every state has a duty and a right to protect its citizens. I find it ironic the administration has sued Arizona for enforcing the law while [federal officials] largely ignore it.”
One part of Monday’s ruling is bound to attract disproportionate attention: The two judges in the majority referred to statements from Mexican officials that foreign relations would be harmed by the law.
Judge Carlos T. Bea, the dissenting judge, said considering the opinions of foreign governments would essentially give a “heckler’s veto” to other countries.
Judge Bea said the majority’s opinion made attacks on the state law that even the government didn’t make in its case, and said far from intending to prevent states from acting on immigration, Congress at times invites the help.
“The majority misreads the meaning of the relevant federal statutes to ignore what is plain in the statutes–Congress intended state and local police officers to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law,” Judge Bea wrote.