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Jul 29, 2010 9 Comments ›› Pat Dollard

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PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona asked an appeals court Thursday to lift a judge’s order blocking most of the state’s immigration law as the city of Phoenix filled with protesters, including about 50 who were arrested for confronting officers in riot gear.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton’s Wednesday decision halting the law “a bump in the road,” and the state appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday.

Outside the state Capitol, hundreds of protesters began marching at dawn, gathering in front of the federal courthouse where Bolton issued her ruling on Wednesday. They marched on to the office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made a crackdown on illegal immigration one of his signature issues.

At least 32 demonstrators were arrested after blocking the entrance and beating on the large steel doors leading to the Maricopa County jail in downtown Phoenix. Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear opened the doors and waded out into the crowd, hauling off those who didn’t move.

Dozens of others were arrested throughout the day, trying to cross a police line, entering closed-off areas or sitting in the street and refusing to leave. Former state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002, was among them. A photographer for the Arizona Republic also was detained.

Marchers chanted “Sheriff Joe, we are here, we will not live in fear,” and in the crowd was a drummer wearing a papier-mache Sheriff Joe head and dressed in prison garb.

Arpaio vowed to go ahead with a crime sweep targeting illegal immigrants. Phoenix police made most the early arrests, before protesters moved to the jail.

“My deputies will arrest them and put them in pink underwear,” Arpaio said, referring to one of his odd methods of punishment for prisoners. “Count on it.”

Arizona is the nation’s epicenter of illegal immigration, with more than 400,000 undocumented residents. The state’s border with Mexico is awash with smugglers and drugs that funnel narcotics and immigrants throughout the U.S., and supporters of the new law say the influx of illegal migrants drains vast sums of money from hospitals, education and other services.

In Tucson, between 50 and 100 people gathered at a downtown street corner to both protest and defend the new law on Thursday morning. Tucson police spokeswoman Linda Galindo said one man was arrested for threatening people in the other group.

In Los Angeles, about 200 protesters invaded a busy intersection west of downtown. Police waited more than three hours before declaring it an unlawful assembly. Most of the demonstrators left peacefully, but about a dozen, linked together with plastic pipes and chains, lay in the street in a circle as an act of civil disobedience. Officer Bruce Borihanh said police were cutting their chains and taking them away to be booked for failure to disperse.

The protesters chanted, “These are our streets” during the raucous demonstration.

In New York City, about 300 immigrant advocates gathered near the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan.

New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, a first-generation Caribbean-American, told the crowd: “We won a slight battle in Arizona, we’ve got to continue with the war.”

Bolton indicated the government has a good chance at succeeding in its argument that federal immigration law trumps state law. But the key sponsor of Arizona’s law, Republican Rep. Russell Pearce, said the judge was wrong and predicted the state would ultimately win the case.

In her temporary injunction, Bolton delayed the most contentious provisions of the law, including a section that required officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws. She also barred enforcement of parts requiring immigrants to carry their papers and banned illegal immigrants from soliciting employment in public places — a move aimed at day laborers that congregate in large numbers in parking lots across Arizona. The judge also blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.

“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,” said Bolton, a Clinton administration appointee who was assigned the seven lawsuits filed against Arizona over the law.

Other provisions that were less contentious were allowed to take effect Thursday, including a section that bars cities in Arizona from disregarding federal immigration laws.

Kris Kobach, the University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write the law and train Arizona police officers in immigration law, conceded the ruling weakens the force of Arizona’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants. He said it will likely be a year before a federal appeals court decides the case.

“It’s a temporary setback,” Kobach said. “The bottom line is that every lawyer in Judge Bolton’s court knows this is just the first pitch in a very long baseball game.”

Opponents of the law said the ruling sends a strong message to other states hoping to replicate the law. Lawmakers or candidates in as many as 18 states say they want to push similar measures when their legislative sessions start up again in 2011.

“Surely it’s going to make states pause and consider how they’re drafting legislation and how it fits in a constitutional framework,” Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, told The Associated Press. “The proponents of this went into court saying there was no question that this was constitutional, and now you have a federal judge who’s said, ‘Hold on, there’s major issues with this bill.'”

But a lawmaker in Utah said the state will likely take up a similar law anyway.

“The ruling … should not be a reason for Utah to not move forward,” said Utah state Rep. Carl Wimmer, a Republican from Herriman City, who said he plans to co-sponsor a bill similar to Arizona’s next year and wasn’t surprised it was blocked. “For too long the states have cowered in the corner because of one ruling by one federal judge.”