By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Foes of Arizona's tough immigration law asked a federal judge in Phoenix on Tuesday to keep the state's controversial "show me your papers" provision on hold because it was discriminatory, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding it.
The measure, part of a broader law to combat illegal immigration in the Mexican border state that is home to an estimated 360,000 undocumented immigrants, requires police to check the status of people they stop and suspect are in the country illegally.
In an hour-long hearing in U.S. District Court, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and several immigration groups said it should be blocked until Judge Susan Bolton could consider arguments different from those considered by the high court.
Immigrant advocates say the law would discriminate against Latinos and could violate constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure if police hold people while verifying their status -- arguments that Arizona rejects.
"This part of the law is infected with racial discrimination," Karen Tumlin, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said moments after the hearing.
"Race and national origin considerations played a motivating factor in the passage of the law and for that reason it must be blocked," she added.
She called on the judge to put the provision on hold "to make sure that individuals are not subjected to unlawful and prolonged detention."
Bolton, who gave no indication of when she might rule, peppered both sides with pointed questions, asking immigration rights advocates why she should not clear the way for the law to be enforced now that the Supreme Court has weighed in. She also pressed the state heavily on the intent of the law.
John Bouma, who represented the state, argued that Arizona was within its rights to pass the measure and bristled at suggestions it was racially motivated, saying, "the fact they even suggest that is offensive."
"This law is about illegal immigration and there are good reasons to be concerned about illegal immigration," Bouma told the court.
Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer, a major White House foe in the battle over illegal immigration, signed a broad crackdown into law in 2010, complaining that the federal government failed to secure the state's border with Mexico.
The Obama administration challenged that law in court, saying the Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration policy. The Supreme Court upheld Arizona's provision on immigration status checks by police.
But in a split ruling issued in June, it also struck down rules that would have required immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, banned illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places, and allowed police to arrest them without warrants if suspected of crimes warranting deportation.
In the Supreme Court's majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy left open the possibility that, once the law took effect, constitutional or other challenges could proceed against the Arizona immigration status check requirement.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has implemented a new policy allowing illegal immigrants between the ages of 15 and 30 who entered the country as children to apply for permits allowing them to stay and work legally for two years.
Within hours of this policy taking effect last Wednesday, Brewer clashed with the White House by issuing an executive order denying state benefits, such as driver's licenses, to illegal immigrants shielded from deportation under the new rules. Nebraska also vowed to withhold state benefits.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Philip Barbara and Paul Simao)