Brewer urges court to leave smuggling law intact

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX (AP) -- Gov. Jan Brewer urged a judge on Friday to leave Arizona's 2005 immigrant smuggling ban intact as the Obama administration argues that the law - once a powerful tool for local authorities to confront illegal immigration - should be thrown out because it's trumped by a federal statute.

The Obama administration made the request to block the smuggling law as part of its challenge of Arizona's broader 2010 immigration 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.

In late May, federal authorities agreed to drop the challenge of the 2010 law's most contentious section that required police, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. In exchange, Arizona agreed to do away with the law's prohibition on harboring immigrants who are in the country illegally.

A coalition of civil rights groups is continuing to push a separate challenge of the 2010 law.

Even though the 2010 law made a minor adjustment to the smuggling law, the Obama administration is asking U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to strike down the entire smuggling law, arguing the state smuggling law is trumped by a similar federal law.

Brewer's attorneys argued the smuggling law doesn't conflict with federal law and that the Obama administration hadn't presented a proper challenge of the entire smuggling law.

Lawyers for the Obama administration have said the judge noted in an earlier ruling that the federal government has stated a legal claim against the entire law.

"If the U.S. government genuinely wants to crack down on human smuggling, it should drop its challenge to Arizona's law and cooperate with the states in addressing this important issue," Brewer said in a statement released after her court filing was made.

The U.S. Justice Department, which is pressing the challenge in court, didn't immediately return calls and emails seeking comment.

The smuggling law had been used frequently in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's trademark immigration efforts, though the courts have restricted his immigration powers over the last 15 months.

Immigrant rights advocates complained that the law that was intended to target smugglers had been misused because authorities were using it to also arrest the customers of smugglers.

Eleven months ago, a judge prohibited Arpaio and county prosecutors from charging immigrants who paid to be sneaked into the country with conspiring to smuggle themselves, 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. The top county prosecutor for metro Phoenix has said the ruling was so broad his office hasn't been able to prosecute even smugglers since the decision.

The smuggling law was passed in 2005 as lawmakers responded to voter frustration over Arizona's role as the nation's then-busiest immigrant smuggling hub. It marked Arizona's second major immigration law and was followed in 2010 with the state's landmark immigration enforcement law, which inspired similar laws in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah.

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