PHOENIX -- A judge ruled yesterday that police can immediately start enforcing the most contentious section of Arizona's immigration law, the first time officers can carry out the so-called "show me your papers" provision.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton is the latest milestone in a two-year legal battle. It had culminated in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that upheld the provision on the ground that it doesn't conflict with federal law.
Now, with the requirement finally in full effect, both sides are anxious to see the outcome.
The supporters want local police to use it vigorously, but worry that federal immigration officials won't respond to calls to come arrest people.
"I am mulling what I will do if they don't respond," said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who more than any other police boss in the state pushed the bounds of immigration enforcement. "I don't feel comfortable letting the illegal alien back on the street."
Federal officials said they will check people's immigration status when officers call. But they'll send an agent to arrest someone only if it fits with their priorities, such as catching repeat violators and those who are a threat to public safety and national security.
Civil rights advocates are preparing for a battle, stepping up efforts to staff a hotline that fields questions about people's rights. If a police agency plans a special immigration patrol, volunteers armed with video cameras will be sent to capture footage, said Lydia Guzman, leader of the civil rights group Respect-Respeto.
The law's opponents are spreading out across the state, asking police departments not to enforce the provision. Doing so could open officers up to lawsuits from people who could claim the agencies aren't fully enforcing the law.