In a serious setback to the state of Arizona, the unprecedentedly tough immigration laws that its Governor passed earlier this year were blocked by a federal judge. Judge Susan Bolton ruled in favour of a lawsuit filed by the Obama administration as she forbade Arizona authorities from implementing central provisions of the new immigration law until the case was fully heard.

Governor Jan Brewer caused a nationwide furore in April when she signed into law the now-infamous SB 1070 bill, which made the failure to carry immigration documents a punishable offence; it also gave police sweeping powers to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

The ruling by Judge Bolton, while it did not block SB 1070 in its entirety, blocked several key powers granted to law enforcement authorities under the law. Most importantly, this include the stop-and-search power of authorities to “determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is unlawfully present in the U.S., and requiring verification of the immigration status of any person arrested prior to releasing that person”.

In a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in July, Attorney General Eric Holder had challenged the constitutionality of SB 1070, arguing principally that the power to regulate immigration was “vested exclusively in the federal government, and that the provisions of SB 1070 are therefore pre-empted by federal law”.

While those opposing SB 1070 argued that the latest ruling was a warning to other jurisdictions considering a similar law, the judgment also comes at a time when no fewer than 20 states are contemplating harsher immigration rules.

Simultaneously Democratic governors across such states were reported to be putting greater pressure on President Obama as they worried about the political consequences of opposing such laws so close to the Congressional elections of November.

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