Arizona's 2005 law that makes smuggling undocumented immigrants a state crime has been struck down by a federal judge.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton declared that the law was "preempted by federal law and is permanently enjoined" in an order released late Friday.
Bolton's order has the effect of striking down both the 2005 law and its updated version found in the controversial state Senate Bill 1070 anti-illegal-immigrant law, which has already been decimated in federal court. Her action comes down on the side of the United States' general legal attack on SB 1070 and its conflict with federal immigration law.
The ruling comes nine years too late to prevent the turmoil and wasted resources that came from the 2005 law's use and abuse as a political tool by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
After the law was passed, Arpaio and his former sidekick, now-disbarred ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas, began a series of high-profile roundups and lockups, costing the county tens of millions of dollars.
Arpaio and Thomas took credit for the reduction in illegal immigrants that followed the enforcement efforts after 2005, conveniently forgetting that the Great Recession had put a halt to construction jobs that drove the need for undocumented workers. Along the way, the law allowed Arpaio to create a police force that, unlike any other in the Valley, systematically targeted and abused the civil rights of Arizona's Hispanics. Following millions spent in legal fees defending Arizona's laws, Arpaio's office has been forced to accept the oversight of a federal monitor.
Bolton has already struck down much of SB 1070 before Friday, although a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld the portion that allows Arizona's cops to check the immigration status of potential undocumented immigrants suspected of committing a crime. A fresh challenge to that portion of the law was begun in September.
On Friday, Bolton ruled that even though the United States hadn't challenged the 2005 law -- lodged in state statute as ARS 13-2319 -- directly, it had challenged similar language found in SB 1070 that had been overruled in appeals court.
"...There is no way to read ARS 13-2319 other than as being concurrent state legislation where there is an 'overwhelmingly dominant federal interest in the field,'" Bolton wrote, referring to a 2013 appeals-court ruling of a Pennsylvania case.
Quoting other cases, Bolton writes that Arizona, "'is conflict preempted because, although it shares some similar goals with (federal immigration law), it "interfere(s) with the careful balance struck by Congress with respect to " the harboring of unauthorized aliens.'"
The 2005 human-smuggling law "imposes additional and different state penalties than federal law; it divests federal authorities of the exclusive power to prosecute these specific smuggling crimes; and criminalizes conduct not covered (in federal law) because it does not contain a safe harbor exception for religious activities like the federal statute does."
The decision comes on top of a slew of court rulings that deny Arizona the right to enforce its own laws against undocumented immigrants.
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that Thomas' interpretation of the 2005 law that made immigrants themselves co-conspirators to the coyote smugglers was found unconstitutional.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
And last month, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a voter-approved law that denied bail for illegal immigrants accused of crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder. The current Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, filed an emergency motion to block the ruling, and last week the U.S. Supreme Court granted his wish to delay the ruling's implementation at least until another hearing can be held on the matter.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.