PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona's authority to confront its illegal immigration woes was again reined in Wednesday when a federal appeals court threw out a 2006 voter-approved law denying bail to people in the country illegally who are charged with certain crimes.
The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals follows other battles over the state's immigration policies, including rulings that struck down much of Arizona's landmark 2010 immigration enforcement law.
A small number of the state's immigration laws have been upheld, including a key section of its 2010 law that requires police to check people's immigration status under certain circumstances.
But the courts have slowly dismantled other laws that sought to draw local police into immigration enforcement as frustrations in the state grew over what critics said was inadequate border protection by the federal government.
"It's proved to be a failed experiment," said Peter Spiro, a Temple University law professor who specializes in immigration law.
On Wednesday, an 11-member 9th Circuit panel struck down a law that denies bail to immigrants who are in the country illegally and have been charged with a range of felonies that include shoplifting, aggravated identity theft, sexual assault and murder.
The panel ruled the law violates due-process rights by imposing punishment before trial. The court also said the law was a "scattershot attempt" at confronting people who flee from authorities, and there was no evidence it dealt with a particularly critical problem.
The court said no studies, statistics or other evidence showed that people in the country illegally pose a greater risk of fleeing from authorities than people in the country legally.
An aide to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was sued as part of the challenge to the no-bail law, said he believes the sheriff's office will ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider its ruling. If that doesn't succeed, it will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.
Arpaio aide Jack MacIntyre rejects the view that many of the state's immigration laws were illegitimate.
"When the federal government abandons its interest in enforcing immigration law and leaves them on the books, it generates contempt for the law in general — and that is not good for a country that's based on the rule of law," MacIntyre said.
For years in Arizona, many officials resisted suggestions that local and state police agencies confront illegal immigration, long considered the sole province of the federal government. But the notion gained political traction as the public's frustration with the state's porous border with Mexico grew.
One key victory for people who pushed those laws was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld a 2007 state law that prohibited employers from knowingly hiring people who weren't authorized to be in the country.
The Supreme Court also upheld the most contentious section of the state's landmark 2010 law — the requirement that police, while enforcing other laws, question the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.
But over the past 18 months, other policies have been rejected by the courts.
A federal judge ruled that Arpaio's office, which made immigration enforcement one of its top priorities, systematically racially profiled Latinos in its immigration and regular traffic patrols — a finding that the sheriff vigorously disputes.
Another judge later prohibited Arpaio and the county's top prosecutor from using a contentious tactic in which immigrants who paid to be sneaked into the country were charged with conspiring to smuggle themselves across the border.
And this past summer, a federal appeals court ruled the state cannot deny driver's licenses to young immigrants who are allowed to stay in the U.S. under a 2012 Obama administration policy.