Federal judge: Anti-human-smuggling law infringes on US immigration policy
Central American Refugees - AFP

A federal judge has struck down a 2005 Arizona criminal statute against human smuggling in a ruling that found it infringed on the U.S. government's power to enforce immigration law.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Friday represents the latest setback for the southwestern state that borders Mexico to use Arizona law and local police to stem the flow of unauthorized immigrants. A number of those state provisions have been overturned in court.

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys sought to have Bolton strike down an Arizona law against human smuggling, first passed in 2005 and slightly amended by a sweeping, controversial law in 2010, and the Phoenix-based judge concurred.

The law "imposes additional and different state penalties than federal law, it divests federal authorities of the exclusive power to prosecute these specific smuggling crimes and criminalizes conduct not covered by (federal law)," Bolton ruled.

Maricopa County Attorney William Montgomery's office, which has jurisdiction over Phoenix, filed court papers last month defending the anti-smuggling law and saying his office filed hundreds of cases against human smugglers under the statute.

In one such case, a man was prosecuted after local police found nine immigrants had been brought across the border before being held for ransom at a drop house in Mesa, a Phoenix suburb.

The state's outgoing Republican Governor Jan Brewer has clashed with the Obama administration over immigration. A representative from her office could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who bills himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff," is among law enforcement officials using the human smuggling law. Another federal judge ordered Arpaio to undergo training to avoid racial profiling after finding his deputies violated the rights of Latino drivers.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down parts of the 2010 Arizona immigration law, including provisions that banned unauthorized immigrants from seeking work in public places and allowed police to arrest them without warrants if suspected of crimes warranting deportation.

But the court left intact the most controversial provision, which gave police officers power to check the immigration status of people they stop, even for minor offenses.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Chris Michaud)