Federal Challenge Of Ariz. Immigration Law Won’t End ACLU-Led Lawsuit

A federal challenge of Arizona’s controversial immigration law won’t stop a separate lawsuit against the state statute that critics say amounts to racial profiling.

In a brief filed in Arizona court, the Justice Department says Arizona’s S.B. 1070 unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government’s authority to set and enforce immigration policy, explaining that “the Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.”

A patchwork of state and local policies would seriously disrupt federal immigration enforcement. Having enacted its own immigration policy that conflicts with federal immigration law, Arizona “crossed a constitutional line,” the Justice Department says in a statement.

Signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), the new law requires Arizona law enforcement to stop anyone in the state whom they believe could possibly be in the United States illegally — even if the subject of the stop is a U.S. citizen.

The federal government requested a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the law, arguing that the law’s operation will cause irreparable harm.

Attorney General Eric Holder says he understands Arizona’s frustration with illegal immigration, but that the new law is not a proper solution.

“Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility. Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves,” Holder says.

The Justice Department says that it filed the suit after extensive consultation with Arizona officials, law enforcement officers and groups, and civil rights advocates. The suit was filed on behalf of the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and State, which share responsibilities in administering federal immigration law.

President Obama had signaled his disapproval of the Arizona statute even prior to Brewer signing it into law.

“With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as Governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says. “We are actively working with members of Congress from both parties to comprehensively reform our immigration system at the federal level because this challenge cannot be solved by a patchwork of inconsistent state laws, of which this is one. While this bipartisan effort to reform our immigration system progresses, the Department of Homeland Security will continue to enforce the laws on the books by enhancing border security and removing criminal aliens from this country.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with a coalition of leading rights groups, filed their own lawsuit in May challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona law.

The civil rights coalition includes the ACLU, MALDEF, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) –- a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice –- ACLU of Arizona, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“We commend the Obama administration for taking this critical step to negate Arizona’s unconstitutional usurpation of federal authority and its invitation to racial profiling,” says Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The administration’s lawsuit is a cannon shot across the bow of other states that may be tempted to follow Arizona’s misguided approach. We will continue to aggressively pursue our legal challenge and welcome the Justice Department’s participation in the battle to preserve American values of fairness and equality.”

Those in the rights coalition says the federal challenge should be a warning to any other states that may want to enact a law such as Arizona’s.

“The Obama administration’s action against this ‘show me your papers’ law sends a loud and clear message against state laws that institutionalize racial profiling of Latinos and result in an erosion of trust between law enforcement and the community,” says Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. “There has been a long history of racial profiling of Latinos in our state, particularly in Maricopa County, causing witnesses and victims of crime to be less willing to come forward. We will fight vigorously to keep this law from going into effect, and welcome the administration’s efforts toward the same goal.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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