PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona on Thursday appealed a judge’s decision to block key parts of the state’s crackdown on illegal immigrants and police in Phoenix arrested scores of activists protesting the remaining measures in the law.
Lawyers for Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to lift an injunction blocking the most intrusive parts of the law, known as SB 1070, and asked for the appeal to be handled quickly.
Tensions over the law have inflamed a national debate over immigration, which has festered for decades and promises to play into the elections in November, when President Barack Obama’s Democrats are fighting to retain control of Congress.
U.S. District Court judge Susan Bolton on Wednesday blocked the law’s most controversial elements, arguing that immigration matters are the federal government’s responsibility.
The law had drawn wide popular support in this state bordering Mexico and across the United States as a whole, but was opposed by President Barack Obama and human rights groups.
The U.S. Marshals Service said Bolton had received hate mail following the ruling. Additionally, aides to a U.S. Congressman opposed to the crackdown reported finding a shattered window and a bullet at a district office in Arizona.
Brewer issued a statement saying she had filed the appeal, asking that the suspended provisions “go into effect pending a decision on the merits of this case.” The case was widely expected to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Republican-controlled state legislature passed the law three months ago to try to drive nearly half a million illegal immigrants out of Arizona, and stem the flow of human and drug smugglers over the border from Mexico.
Several hundred Hispanic and labor activists, delighted by Wednesday’s last-minute ruling, pushed ahead with rallies in central Phoenix, chanting and banging drums in protest at parts of the law that came into effect on Thursday.
Police arrested at least 48 protesters after they blocked streets near a sheriff’s office in the city center and the entrance to a jail.
A Reuters witness saw police dressed in riot gear arrest demonstrators, including an elderly female church minister. The protesters offered no resistance and police led them away in plastic handcuffs.
“We welcome the fact that the judge blocked some of the provisions in SB 1070 but ... we are continuing action to overturn the rest of the law, ” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
“Today is going to be worse that yesterday because there will be more laws on the books, more tools for cops,” he said.
The fierce debate over illegal immigration stirs up strong passions in the United States, where 11 million illegal immigrants work in mostly low-paid jobs in the shadow economy.
The U.S. Marshals Service in Phoenix said Judge Bolton received hate mail at her court office after making her ruling. Bolton is an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and some commentators have slammed her as an “activist judge” out of step with the country.
U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and staunch opponent of the law, meanwhile, closed a district office in Yuma after staff found a shattered window and a bullet inside. Police investigated the incident, but had no “potential motive,” his office said in a statement.
Among blocked provisions of the law was one requiring a police officer to check the immigration status of anyone stopped or detained if the officer believed they were not in the country legally.
Immigrants would also have been required to carry their documents at all times and undocumented workers would have been forbidden to solicit work in public.
Measures not subject to the stay, and which went into effect on Thursday, included offenses making it illegal for drivers to pick up day laborers from the street and to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant.
The law triggered interest in copycat measures in as many as 20 other states around the country. But analysts said Bolton’s ruling on Wednesday would “at least hit the pause button” for some Republicans mulling their own measures.
“If the Supreme Court upholds the injunction that will most likely put a real damper on any potential legislation,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University in Texas.
The law is popular with a majority of Americans and 65 percent of Arizona voters, although opponents charge it is unconstitutional and would lead to discrimination against Latinos, and Latino-looking Americans.
Scores of day laborers set out to seek work at informal day labor sites in Phoenix, despite the new provisions.
“We’re not criminals, we’re not hurting anyone ... We wish people would know that,” said Franco Escamilla, an undocumented laborer from Mexico, as he waited outside a Home Depot store in Phoenix.
A sheriff known for his tough approach to illegal immigrants in the Phoenix area, pushed ahead with a crime and immigration sweep in as planned on Thursday, arresting four people. It was not immediately clear if they were illegal immigrants.
“Nothing is going to deter the sheriff and my office, including rulings of a federal judge,” Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said. “It’s business as normal.”
About 10 protesters were arrested in Los Angeles after they chained themselves together in the middle of a busy intersection during a demonstration over the Arizona law that drew about 200 people.
Writing by Tim Gaynor; Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by David Storey and Eric Walsh