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Sharp sting of Arizona immigration debate

Mark Mardell | 20:14 UK time, Wednesday, 28 July 2010

road_ap224.jpgIt's not over yet. A judge has struck down the most important part of Arizona's new law aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants coming in from Mexico.

Police won't be required to check the immigration status of those they arrest. The ruling said that "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".

Perhaps more importantly, it finds that the new law undermines the federal government doing its job and creates a "a likelihood of irreparable harm to the interests of the United States".

The Department of Justice has welcomed this, saying: "While we understand 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."

Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer has said, in a delightfully mindboggling image, that this is just a "bump in the road" which she is trying to get her arms around. Let's hope she doesn't get run over. In plain English, there will be a challenge and this is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

So no-one is hollering victory. But it will further fire up an already heated debate in the run up to November's elections. The right will feel they are being robbed of a important tool to deal with lawlessness. Many Democrats will feel they've scored a first victory against covert racism.

A lot of Latinos will urge President Barack Obama to make more illegals legal. Conservatives will urge him to strengthen the border and increase deportations. This ruling has stopped the law coming into effect but it hasn't drawn its political sting, just made it sharper.

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