A US federal judge in Arizona has blocked key parts of the state's strict immigration law a day before it was due to take effect. The judge blocked a requirement that police check the immigration status of criminal suspects whom they had stopped while enforcing other laws.
The federal government argues the law usurped its authority over immigration. Among the other parts of the law blocked was a section which makes it a crime not to carry immigration papers.
The Republican-controlled Arizona legislature passed the law in April amid fears of rising crime caused by illegal aliens and complaints the federal government had failed to act on the matter.
The US justice department hailed the ruling, while acknowledging the frustration of Arizonans with the broken immigration system.
A patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement and would ultimately be counterproductive, spokeswoman Hannah August said in a statement.
We will continue to work toward smarter and more effective enforcement of our laws while pressing for a comprehensive approach that provides true security and strengthens accountability and responsibility in our immigration system at the national level.
The ruling is seen as a victory for Hispanic groups, civil liberty organisations and the White House who complained the law might lead to Latinos being unfairly targeted. That's because of the 400,000 people in Arizona illegally, most come from Mexico.
Polls seem to indicate the law had majority support in the US and in Arizona; many say it was needed to secure the state's borders and protect American jobs.
Arizona lawmakers and President Barack Obama agree immigration must be tackled but they disagree on how. Parts of Arizona's new law will still go into effect but it's not the measure its architects planned.
The Mexican government, which has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Arizona law, also applauded the ruling on Wednesday. Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa told reporters the judge's decision was a first step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican who strongly supported the law, pledged quickly to appeal against the ruling.
We will take a close look at every single element Judge [Susan] Bolton removed from the law, and we will soon file an expedited appeal at the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Ms Brewer said in a statement on Wednesday.
It's a temporary bump in the road, we will move forward, she told the Associated Press. The bottom line is we've known all along that it is the responsibility of the feds, and they haven't done their job so we were going to help them do that.
In a temporary injunction, US District Judge Susan Bolton blocked enforcement of several portions of the law after ruling they were likely to be found unconstitutional because they pre-empted the federal government's authority to set immigration law.
Among the sections blocked was one making it a crime for undocumented workers to seek or apply for a job and another allowing police to arrest without a warrant people whom they had probable cause to believe had committed a crime for which they could be deported.
The United States was likely to suffer irreparable harm if she did not block enforcement of those sections, she wrote.
Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked, she wrote.
She also wrote that the surge in requests for immigration status checks would force the federal government to shift resources away from its own priorities.
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