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On Eve of Major Protests, Federal Judge Blocks Key Provisions of Arizona Anti-Immigrant Law

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A federal judge in Phoenix blocked key provisions of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law on Wednesday, hours before it was scheduled to take effect. US District Judge Susan Bolton ruled a partial injunction would apply to the portion of the law that requires police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. The law sparked mass protests across the country and a boycott of Arizona. We speak with Isabel Garcia, co-chair of the Tucson-based Coalition for Human Rights. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: A federal judge in Phoenix blocked key provisions of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law on Wednesday, hours before it was scheduled to take effect. US District Judge Susan Bolton ruled a partial injunction would apply to the portion of the law that requires police officers to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. The ruling came in response to an injunction requested by the Obama administration, which had argued in a lawsuit that the law was unconstitutional and warned the provisions would result in racial profiling.

The law sparked mass protests across the country and a boycott of Arizona. Yesterday, demonstrators filled the streets outside the courthouse in Phoenix and in front of the State Capitol.

Judge Bolton said in her thirty-six-page decision that it was “not in the public interest” for Arizona to enforce provisions that preempt federal enforcement of immigration law. Also put on hold were parts of the law requiring foreigners to apply for or carry certain documents, making it a state crime for undocumented workers “to solicit, apply for or perform work,” and mandating verification of the immigration status of any arrested person prior to release. Bolton ruled the partial injunction should apply until the issues are resolved by the courts.

The ruling meant that other portions of the law, known as Senate Bill 1070, took effect on midnight. Among them are provisions that prohibit state authorities from limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws, a provision that makes it a crime to impede traffic by picking up day laborers, and a part of the law that creates misdemeanor crimes for harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants.

    GOV. JAN BREWER: Well, obviously, it’s a little bump in the road, I believe, and that, you know, until I get my whole arms around it, we don’t really exactly know where we’re going to go. We knew, regardless of what happened today, of course, that one side or the other side was going to appeal. So this begins the process.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Arizona Governor Jan Brewer responding to the court’s decision. Arizona State Representative David Gowan, who helped to get the law passed, said he was surprised by the judge’s ruling.

    REP. DAVID GOWAN: I have reasonable — no understanding why she came out with that decision, but I am kind of surprised the way was hinting at, well, we would — we might do partial, maybe not all of it. Yeah, I was thinking partial, but I never thought the heart of the bill was going to be touched. And it is surprising, because that affects the whole law enforcement ability. The federal government, again, is dictating down, and a judge — a judge, an appointed judge — is telling the will of the people, “No.”

AMY GOODMAN: Advocacy groups said major protests and acts of civil disobedience against the law are scheduled to take place across Arizona today. It began last night when four protesters brought Phoenix to a standstill after scaling a construction crane some twenty stories high to unfurl a large banner that read “Stop Hate.” Police shut down several streets in the downtown area and arrested the four protesters.

For more, we go now to Arizona to speak with Isabel Garcia, the co-chair of the Coalition for Human Rights and legal defender of Pima County, Arizona. She joins us from Tucson, where she’s just come from an all-night vigil at the State Building there.

Isabel, welcome to Democracy Now! First of all, explain exactly what the judge ruled. What was ruled illegal and what stands in this Arizona law that went into effect last night at midnight?

ISABEL GARCIA: Good morning, Amy.

As you’ve correctly already stated — I’ll say it in other words — I think the judge ruled that Arizona government cannot simply state this is going to be a police state for all people of color. That was very clear, that she will not allow the state of Arizona to have police officers stop me and then engage in this inquiry on my status because they may have a reasonable suspicion that I may be here in violation. She struck that down. No police state in Arizona.

Secondly, that’s very important, she said you cannot criminalize undocumented immigrants. That was very clear. You cannot simply say, “You’re a criminal because you don’t have a document with you.”

And thirdly, she said you cannot criminalize work, which I think is very vital, as well, that we will not allow the state of Arizona, in order to impact immigration, to say that people that are soliciting work will be tagged as a criminal.

So I think it really does strike at the heart of what this legislature has done, what the governor has done, and really has provided the checks and balances that we demand in this country and that really would have — that has stopped, really, Arizona from falling off a precipice here in terms of human rights and civil rights for all of us, in addition to not permitting the state of Arizona to simply decide they’re going to implement their own immigration categories, their own immigration laws. I think it was a real no-brainer. It was very clear that this was a grab, a power grab, at something that only the federal government has power to enforce.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Isabel Garcia, she also appeared to knock down the state’s argument that this law could be enforced without racial profiling, because she said at one point in her decision, “There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongly arrest legal resident aliens.” And she went on to say, “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.” Your reaction to that part of her decision?

ISABEL GARCIA: That’s absolutely — yes, we read that part of her decision. It’s very clear that she saw through all of the affidavits by police officers and police chiefs. In addition, she indicated she saw the entire training video. And that was her decision, that in fact this could not be applied without these kind of violations of our constitutional rights, those of us that do have authorization to be here, that we would be subject to, like I said, a police state.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the parts of SB 1070 that are going into effect, Isabel, and how it affects Arizona.

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, unfortunately, she did not enjoin the whole thing. And it was very clear on July 22nd that she was not going to do so. She is going to permit — and, of course, it went into effect today at midnight — the portion that says that undocumented workers that are in the corners, the day laborers, they cannot impede traffic. That is a violation, a state misdemeanor offense, that she’s going to permit to be enforced. Here in Tucson, for instance, we have a day laborer center, where, fortunately, cars can drive into a private parking lot at a church and can exit that. But, of course, we are really concerned about the many workers who stand at a corner, not to commit crimes, not to assault, not to sell drugs, but simply to seek work. Unfortunately, that is going to be a crime. And I think it’s really important that we stand with those day laborers.

Secondly, we were very concerned that she did not enjoin the provision of the law, of the new law, that says it is a misdemeanor offense to encourage, harbor or transport undocumented immigrants. In other words, those of us that live in mixed families, mixed communities, where we have undocumented, documented and citizens, all of us mixed in a community and within families, that we will be subjected to a criminal offense — a misdemeanor offense, but nonetheless an offense. This is going to give, of course, Sheriff Arpaio, who indicates that even with or without SB 1070 he’s going to continue with his massive unconstitutional crime sweeps and immigration sweeps, of course it’s going to give him two additional crimes now that he thinks he can enforce.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to go to a clip of the sheriff, of Arpaio, but we will try to pull that up in a bit. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Isabel, I’d like to ask you what you think are the prospects now, because obviously Governor Jan Brewer has said she expects to appeal, that will go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for the Western region — can you talk about what you think the prospects there would be with the Court of Appeals?

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, I believe firmly that the Ninth Circuit, even the Supreme Court, would go ahead and affirm Judge Bolton’s decision. This is clearly an issue of preemption. The federal government has supreme power here in enforcing immigration law through the Supremacy Clause, and the federal government has acted very actively in order to enforce immigration laws. They have a complicated scheme of immigration classifications and enforcement scheme. So, clearly, the government, the federal government, has preempted the area. I cannot imagine the Ninth Circuit overturning this, nor even the Supreme Court. I cannot envision allowing fifty states to engage in their own immigration classification and enforcement schemes. So I know that this is going to be a long road. We still have a year, two years, three years of litigation. But the fact that she issued a preliminary injunction is a very major blow to this legislation. As you know, preliminary injunctions require that we prove a high probability of success on the merits at the end and, secondly, that there is irreparable damage, irrevocable damage, if in fact she allowed it to be implemented before her final decision.

So, we feel very confident in terms of the decisions that will be made by the courts; however, we are also very cognizant of the fact that the vast — the American public, according to studies and surveys, that 70-some percent favor 1070. This really points to our real challenge ahead, and that is to really engage in a meaningful dialogue about immigration. To me, those surveys indicate that the vast — most of the people do not understand the issues involved in immigration — how it is that we have 11 million undocumented people there; what our role has been in creating that; what our role is, continues to be, in creating more and more immigrants that are coming to the north. So, there’s many issues that I think that we have to take very seriously, as we are not — we’re not gloating. We don’t believe that we have achieved justice yet, because we have a long — a long road ahead of us to really have true immigration reform, a reform of our trade policies, and a real look at how we’re militarizing our border, privatizing it to — with unprecedented expenditures, to the detriment of our real security needs, such as education, healthcare, infrastructure. And so, we must have that dialogue here in the future.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Isabel, talking about the issue of the militarization of the border and the broader issue of immigration, the New York Times had a report yesterday about the sharp increase in the number of people found dead in the desert around — in southern Arizona who were trying to cross the border. The numbers are astounding: 150 people so far this year, and many of them in the last few months during this heat wave that’s been occurring across the country. Can you talk about the impact of that on your part of the country?

ISABEL GARCIA: Absolutely. We have been screaming about the deaths at the border since the mid-1990s, when we began with fourteen people losing their lives unnecessarily in 1994, and every year pretty much increasing. From October 1 of 2009 to the end of June, we had 153 deaths documented, and these are just remains found on the border of Arizona-Sonora. July now, and we are not at the end of it, so we don’t have the final count, but according to the medical examiner yesterday, fifty-eight people have been found in the month of July. So it is over 200 people, and the summer is not over.

This has been an issue that we have raised over and over and over again. We are very happy that the Obama administration filed a lawsuit against 1070, but, of course, we fault the federal government and all of their administrations since the mid-1990s for creating this situation in Arizona by closing off all the safe and traditional crossing areas of migrants for the past hundred years in the mid-1990s. We sealed those up, creating a funnel into Arizona, into the most dangerous terrain. And nobody seems to care. Even in regards to immigration reform, people tout their proposals as their reform proposal ending the deaths. It is not true. With the Obama administration wanting to send 1,200 National Guard troops, adding $600,000 to the already highly militarized border, more Border Patrol agents, more fencing, more technology and software along the border, we are going to see an increase in the deaths. And really, it’s really unconscionable what we’re doing, these unnecessary deaths of these migrants.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel, the New York Times reports the bodies of fifty-seven border crossers have been brought in during July so far. Juan was pointing out before the show, that is equal — this is in July — to about the — what? — number of deaths in Afghanistan of soldiers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: For this month, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: For this — just for this month. No More Deaths, the group of activists who have gone into the desert to try to help people, to bring water, who have been prosecuted for bringing water and aid to people in the desert, do you know what the latest on that is?

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, No More Deaths continues to engage in that activity, as well as others. Unfortunately, other organizations have put water out. The Samaritans are a group of doctors and nurses that, together with No More Deaths, go into these migrant trails that are used in Arizona, and they have saved lives. However, we can see that we have over 200 people that have died already on this border every single year. It is a deadly situation, the saddest deaths you can imagine. One of the women that was found, of the 153, was pregnant, and so her baby is number 153. It really is a crisis. This is the crisis, not the lies that you hear Governor Brewer spewing that we have border violence and scaring everybody about the border, when it’s not a reality. All of the statistics show that the border areas are more crime-free than other areas. So, you know, we really have to focus on what the real crisis is. We are living a crisis, and it’s a human rights crisis along this border, allowing generally healthy people that are about to cross and eventually losing their lives within a matter of hours or days in one of the most horrific deaths you can imagine.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Garcia, your congressman, Raúl Grijalva, who is co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, has called off the boycott of Arizona now. What is your feeling about that?

ISABEL GARCIA: Well, we can understand Congressman Grijalva calling it off now that he believes this law will not be implemented. However, I think the state legislature really needs to feel the impact of what they have done, economic and political impact. Our organizations continue to call for a boycott, not only of the state, but of the Diamondbacks, Frito-Lay, Jimmy John’s and the other businesses that have contributed or, in some fashion, have not helped us to stop this nightmare from occurring in Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix, of course, is our capital, where we have a legislature that is unfortunately filled with some of the most anti-immigrant, anti-human beings, as well of course having Sheriff Joe Arpaio, that has vowed to continue, regardless what the federal government says, regardless of what a district court judge says. He believes he’s the law by himself, and he’s going to continue. So, obviously, we believe that the boycotts must continue.

AMY GOODMAN: The effect of the protests on President Obama, do you feel, Isabel Garcia? And the actions that the Obama administration took?

ISABEL GARCIA: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m just wondering what you feel were the effects of the protests on the Obama administration and the court challenge that the Obama administration took that led to this decision last night?

ISABEL GARCIA: Let’s face it. I think that both the Obama administration, the courts and everybody are political beings. They know what’s going on. They know that there’s massive political pressure, economic pressure, including massive historic mobilizations that have occurred in the state of Arizona. National, international people have come in. So I think most definitely there has been an impact on everybody involved, as we all know that massive, you know, real major social change results after there is mass mobilization in the streets and massive engagement by the population that really guide politicians, guide other entities within our system to do the right thing. And so, yes, I believe that the protests have had a definite impact on everything that we are seeing that’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Isabel Garcia, we want to thank you very much for being with us, co-chair of the Tucson-based Coalition for Human Rights and legal defender of Pima County, Arizona. It’s the morgues in Pima County that are filling with Latin American immigrants who are dying in the desert at incredible numbers.

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