Court Unlikely To Overturn Arizona Immigration Law

Court unlikely to overturn Arizona illegal immigration law
By DAVID KRAVETS, AP Legal Affairs Writer

Monday, June 13, 2005
(06-13) 15:43 PDT San Francisco (AP) —

A federal appeals court was urged Monday to overturn a voter approved Arizona law denying welfare and other benefits to illegal immigrants.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, appeared inclined to leave intact the nation's only such law requiring state and local welfare workers to report suspected illegal immigrants to immigration officials.

Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that the law was a “scheme” to deport illegal immigrants, and therefore must be nullified because only Congress can adopt immigration laws. “The state has no authority to enact it,” MALDEF lawyer Hector Villagra said of Proposition 200.

The measure, the only one of its kind in the nation, passed with 56 percent of the vote in a state with porous borders along Mexico. Arizona, the busiest illegal entry point on the country's southern border, spends millions of dollars annually on social services for illegal immigrants.

The passage of the law emboldened Arizona legislators to propose other anti-immigration bills. Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed a number of them, including one that would have given local police the power to enforce federal immigration laws.

Arizona Deputy Attorney General Mary O'Grady urged the court not to tinker with the law that denies monthly general assistance payments, assistance in paying utility bills, and help with vision benefits.

She told the judges that the law is not pre-empted by Congress because it does not dictate who can enter the U.S. lawfully.

“This isn't a regulation of immigration,” she said. “We are simply verifying eligibility.”

Two judges appeared to question why MALDEF was even in court. They noted that the main plaintiff in the case was a private social service organization, Friendly House, and was not a person denied benefits or even deported.

Judge Alfred Goodwin suggested that the courts cannot intervene until somebody is denied benefits and sues, an assertion backed by Judge Johnnie Rawlinson.

“Suppose it is a mean-spirited, foolish law,” Goodwin asked. “Until somebody is injured in fact by it, courts don't go around deciding these foolish laws unconstitutional.”

Villagra, of MALDEF, said Friendly House was being injured because it was besieged by illegal immigrants too afraid to seek the government's assistance. Since the passage of Proposition 200 in November, he added, illegal immigrants are less frequently using emergency room services and baby delivery services areas not covered by the law.

He said some illegal immigrants are afraid to take their children to hospitals for emergency care “because of Proposition 200.”

State welfare officials have reported only two illegal immigrants to immigration authorities for seeking state government-sponsored utility benefits under the new law.

After the 45-minute hearing, Villagra said in an interview that MALDEF didn't have illegal immigrants as plaintiffs because they feared being deported if they were part of the lawsuit, and their incentive to sue would be nonexistent if they were deported.

A federal judge declined to block the law and MALDEF appealed to the 9th Circuit. The three-judge panel did not indicate when it would rule.

The measure also prohibits illegal immigrants from registering to vote.

The case is Friendly House v. Napolitano, 05-15005.

Editors: David Kravets has been covering state and federal courts for more than a decade.

“mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”