The U.S. Supreme Court landed the final blow against an Arizona law that denied bail to immigrants who are in the country illegally and are charged with certain felonies, marking the latest in a series of state immigration policies that have since been thrown out by the courts.
The nation’s highest court on Monday rejected a bid from metro Phoenix’s top prosecutor and sheriff to reinstate the 2006 law after a lower appeals court concluded late last year that it violated civil rights by imposing punishment before trial.
While a small number of Arizona’s immigration laws have been upheld, the courts have slowly dismantled most of the other statutes that sought to draw local police into immigration enforcement.
“At this point, we can say that was a failed experiment,” said Cecillia Wang, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who led the challenge of the law. “Like the rest of the country, Arizona should move on from that failed experiment.”
Voters overwhelmingly approved the no-bail law as the state’s politicians were feeling pressure to take action on illegal immigration. It automatically denied bail to immigrants charged with a range of felonies that included shoplifting, aggravated identity theft, sexual assault and murder.
The number of immigrants who were denied bond hearings as a result of the law was unknown, but that number is believed to be over 1,000. Immigrants started to get bail hearings late last year after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the law.
Proponents said the law prevented people who aren’t authorized to be in the country and skip out on their bail from committing future offenses. Critics say immigrants who were jailed on immigrant smuggling or work-related ID theft charges often went on to make guilty pleas to felony charges because the no-bail law made it impossible for them to earn money to support their families.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery issued a statement saying the U.S. Supreme Court has, in effect, let a lower federal appeals court veto a law that was enacted by voters to confront specific concerns in Arizona.
The small number of Arizona’s surviving immigration laws includes a key section of the state’s 2010 statute that requires police to check people’s immigration status in certain circumstances.
But the courts have thrown out or put on hold other state immigration policies, including then-Gov. Jan Brewer’s order to deny driver’s licenses to certain young immigrants protected from deportation and identity-theft laws that Sheriff Joe Arpaio used against immigrants who were accused of using fake or stolen documents to get jobs.
Russell Pearce, a former lawmaker who led the effort to put the no-bail proposal on the ballot for voters to decide, said the Supreme Court’s latest order is a disappointment that could negatively affect public safety.
“It’s another slap at state’s rights,” said Pearce, who led the effort to pass the 2010 immigration law.
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