The state of Arizona faced off against the U.S. government this morning in a San Francisco federal appeals court over the state’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070.
Attorneys for the state are trying to reverse a federal trial judge’s ruling in July that blocked key portions of the law, including a requirement that police determine the immigration status of people they arrest or question and reasonably suspect are in the country illegally.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from attorneys this morning and will issue a decision at a later date. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer attended the hearing.
“Arizona is trying to deal with the problems that arise from the federal immigration system, that even President Obama acknowledges is broken,” said John Bouma, attorney for the state of Arizona.
“The federal government has been unable or unwilling to solve the problem,” Bouma said.
Edwin Kneedler, deputy solicitor general for the U.S. government, said it is important “not to allow for a patchwork of state laws” that could disrupt federal immigration enforcement.
Kneedler argued that the portion of the law requiring that police check immigration status during detention is unconstitutional.
Brewer said after the hearing that she hopes the appeals court judges understand the challenges her state faces. She said Arizona is overwhelmed by illegal immigrants streaming across the border, which she said threatens the safety of citizens there.
“We would not be here today…if the federal government would have done their job, which they have not,” she said.
Hundreds of protesters who oppose SB 1070 blocked streets this morning outside the courthouse at Mission and Seventh Streets.
The protesters marched to the courthouse at about 9 a.m., joining a small group of the law’s supporters. At about 10 a.m., demonstrators spilled into Seventh Street, blocking traffic.
The protest was organized in part by the San Francisco-based Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. The Rev. Joellynn Monahan, of the United Church of Christ, was among the participants.
“As a clergyperson and a person of faith, I’m concerned about families, I’m concerned about people who will be separated from their families,” Monahan said.
“My experience with immigrants, both documented and undocumented, is that they are overall good, hardworking people who support the infrastructure of our communities,” she said.
Opponents of the law carried signs reading, “Si, se puede,” or “Yes we can,” and “Arizona’s racist law, we say no.”
Supporters’ signs read, “Uphold the law, stop giving away our jobs,” “Stop illegal immigration, protect our borders,” and “Fan of Jan,” referring to Brewer.
Ginger Westfall, of Fremont, was among the supporters.
“The federal law should support the Arizona law,” she said.
Jose Ornelas, a Concord resident, carried a sign that read, “Sanctuary cities kill.”
“I think that sanctuary cities are established outside the law, and it weakens the belief in the law and the trust in the law,” he said. “I think it’s within (states’) rights to defend their borders.”
Arizona is appealing a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department.
The appeals court panel’s eventual ruling can be appealed to an expanded 11-judge panel of the circuit court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In addition to blocking the requirement that police determine immigration status, Bolton’s injunction also halted a provision requiring non-citizens to carry immigration documents with them and making it a crime if they don’t.
If upheld, the preliminary injunction would remain in effect until a full trial is carried out in Bolton’s court on the Justice Department lawsuit.