Washington (UPI) Jul 7, 2010
Immigration interest groups at both ends of the spectrum are gearing up for what promises to be a hard-fought legal battle between the U.S. government and the state of Arizona over its controversial statute.
The Obama administration has been among the most vocal opponents against the Arizona law, which goes into effect July 29. The state law -- called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act -- authorizes police to ask a crime suspect for immigration documents, which the federal government requires aliens to carry.
The law also aims to act against people hiring, transporting or sheltering illegal aliens in a state that has an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants within its borders and whose international boundary with Mexico is considered a prime crossing point for illegal entry into the United States.
Opponents claim it will lead to racial profiling against Hispanics.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's landmark legislation. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, calls for the law to be voided for violating the federal government's authority to regulate immigration under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says federal laws supersede state statutes.
Although states may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws," the Justice Department's suit argues.
A significant portion of the brief is spent establishing the federal government's constitutional right to control immigration policy before highlighting how Arizona's law impedes that right, particularly by prioritizing "attrition through enforcement," or the deportation of illegal immigrants, above all other policy goals.
"The Department of Justice did a great job synthesizing the pre-emption argument," said Crystal Williams, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "The state of Arizona is attempting to legislate in an area that is reserved for the federal government."
Jack Martin, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for tighter immigration laws in the United States, disagreed, saying the lawsuit takes "a kitchen sink approach of throwing in a lot of issues hoping maybe a judge will buy one argument or another."
Martin said applying the supremacy clause to Arizona's law "makes no sense."
"I don't think it's a supremacy issue because the authority that the Arizona statute is exercising is simply the enforcement of laws that exist at the federal level," Martin said. "The law cooperates with the federal government."
But state rights can only apply when federal law and the Constitution are silent, Williams countered. "One thing we cannot have states doing is running foreign policy."
In a statement released after the lawsuit was filed, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Arizona law would divert attention and resources from federal priorities, such as aliens with criminal records or terrorists, and affect the safety of the entire country.
"Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility," Holder said. "Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves."
Williams echoed the argument: "If you're a U.S. citizen, you're a U.S. citizen. You can't be a citizen in New Mexico and not in Arizona."
The federal government's case isn't the first legal challenge to Arizona's law but it is unique. At least four other suits have been filed, all of which challenge the legislation through the Equal Protection Clause. Though the Justice Department's argument references a likelihood of discrimination in Arizona's statute, the legal challenge focuses on what the government says is a state policy undermining a federal one.
" The United States Constitution forbids Arizona from supplanting the federal government's immigration regime with its own state-specific immigration policy," the suit argues.
While immigration foes and supporters disagreed over the supremacy clause argument made by the Justice Department, they did agree on one issue.
Williams and Martin both said that the ultimate solution is broad immigration reform and unified application of the law.
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