POLITICS

Federal judge strikes down Arizona's controversial immigrant smuggling law

U.S. Border Patrol agents guard a group of Mexican immigrants caught after they crossed illegally into the United States on March 6, 2013 near Walker Canyon, Arizona.(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

U.S. Border Patrol agents guard a group of Mexican immigrants caught after they crossed illegally into the United States on March 6, 2013 near Walker Canyon, Arizona.(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

A federal judge has struck down Arizona's 2005 immigrant smuggling law on the grounds that it's trumped by federal statutes.

The ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton marked the latest in a string of restrictions placed by the courts on Arizona's effort to get local police to confront illegal immigration.

Bolton ruled the state law deprives federal authorities of their exclusive right to prosecute smuggling crimes.

Gov. Jan Brewer's office and the U.S. Justice Department, which pressed the challenge on behalf of the Obama administration, did not immediately respond to emails Saturday morning.

Lawmakers passed Arizona's smuggling law in response to voter frustration over the state's position as the nation's then-busiest immigrant smuggling hub. It marked Arizona's second major immigration law and was followed in 2010 with a broader law that required police to make immigration checks in certain cases, inspiring similar laws in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.

The smuggling law had been used frequently in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's trademark immigration efforts, though the courts have curbed his immigration powers over the 17 last months.

The law came under heavy criticism after more than 2,000 immigrants who paid to be sneaked into the country were charged with conspiring to smuggle themselves across the border.

Critics said the law was intended for the smugglers, not their customers. Last year, a different federal judge barred the tactic, ruling that the policy criminalizes actions that the federal law treats as a civil matter. County officials agreed to drop their appeal of that ruling.

Bolton struck down the smuggling law as part of the Obama administration's challenge of the 2010 law, which made a minor change to the 2005 statute. The dispute over the smuggling law is all that remains of the administration's challenge of the 2010 law.

Still, a coalition of civil rights groups is pushing a separate challenge to the 2010 law in federal court.

Arizona's list of immigration policies that have been shelved is growing. Still, the courts have upheld some Arizona policies, such as a section of the landmark 2010 immigration enforcement law that requires police to check people's immigration status under certain circumstances.

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