Saying domestic violence victims will be endangered, a national organization which advocates on behalf of women wants a federal judge to block Arizona from enforcing its new law aimed at illegal immigrants.
Legal papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court by Legal Momentum say federal law gives special protection to immigrant women to encourage them to report crimes and help prosecute them without fear of being deported. Attorneys also said other federal statutes guarantee access to certain services, including emergency shelter, without regard to immigration status.
All that, they argued, is undermined by SB 1070 which requires police to ask those they have stopped about whether they are in this country legally if there is reasonable suspicion they are not. The law, set to take effect July 29, also allows police to arrest illegal immigrants for violating state trespass laws.
“Arizona police could be stationed outside a battered women’s shelter precisely because immigrant women are likely to use federally guaranteed life-saving services,” wrote attorneys Joanna McCallum and Christopher DuPont. The lawyers also singled out another new provision of the law which makes it a crime to “harbor” or “shield” illegal immigrants.
“SB 1070 … undermines the ability of domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and other victim-service providers to bring crime victims to court, to meetings with prosecutors, and to the hospital for treatment of critical injuries, causing irreparable harm,” the attorneys wrote.
Pearce disputed both points, saying SB 1070 says police don’t have to ask legal status if that would “hinder or obstruct an investigation.
“We made it clear we left it up to officer discretion … for unique situations,” he said.
He acknowledged the legislation provides no legal protection for those who operate domestic violence shelters or similar facilities. The only people with immunity for being prosecuted for harboring or shielding an illegal immigrant are child protective service workers and “first responders” like ambulance attendants.
“We made the appropriate exceptions in the bill,” Pearce said. And he disputed the contention of the lawyers that federal law gives any special protection for domestic violence shelters.
“It’s another bogus filing by open-border folks who are trying to use a wedge issue to keep the law from being enforced,” Pearce said of the paperwork.
Whether foes will get to make their argument to the court has not been resolved.
The attorneys are seeking permission to file a “friend of the court” brief in support of the original lawsuit, filed last month, seeking to at least temporarily bar enforcement of the law while its constitutionality is considered by the court. It is up to the judge whether to permit the action.
Wednesday’s court filing comes as Gov. Jan Brewer is going virtual in her effort to find money to defend the law.
The governor’s office set up a website, www.keepazsafe.com, to solicit donations for the legal defense fund she set up by executive order last month.
Brewer said she is using the authority given to her by the Legislature to hire outside counsel because she believes that Attorney General Terry Goddard will not properly defend the law. Goddard, in turn, said he believes the law, as subsequently amended by lawmakers, is legal and he will defend it.
As of last week, the governor’s office said 437 individuals have given nearly $27,000 for the effort through mailed-in donations. The website allows would-be donors use a MasterCard or Visa.
In Wednesday’s filing, attorneys for Legal Momentum said the organization helped craft the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, the law that protects immigrants who report crimes — and the law they said would be undermined by SB 1070.
They pointed out that Congress, in amendments enacted in 2000, showed a specific interest in broadening the law to ensure that those women in the country illegally also are protected. Those changes enacted two new visas, one for victims of human trafficking and the other for victims of domestic violence, rape and other crimes.
Both programs, the attorney said, require the cooperation of and coordination with local police, agencies that would be subject to the requirements of SB 1070.
“SB 1070 will eliminate any reasonable possibility that a (special) visa-eligible victim could access law enforcement for the purposes of cooperating in investigating or prosecuting crimes committed in Arizona,” the attorneys wrote. “That harm cannot be undone.”
The lawyers said Congress further showed its interest in protecting undocumented women in 1996 by adding battered immigrant women and children entitled to welfare benefits, benefits which had previously been taken away.
In its filing, the attorneys describe Legal Momentum as a 39-year-old legal defense and education fund “dedicated to advancing the rights of all women and girls.” But the lawyers said the legal position also is backed by dozens of other groups across the nation which are involved in helping victims of domestic violence.