Justice Dept Draws a Line in Arizona's Sand

The US government has filed a lawsuit against Arizona for a controversial immigration law which has been sharply criticized by America's neighbors and by the US administration. "Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility," US Attorney General Eric Holder said in the statement. (AFP/File/Shah Marai)

Justice Dept Draws a Line in Arizona's Sand

NEW YORK - While civil rights and Hispanic advocates are applauding the Justice Department's decision to sue the state of Arizona over its new "may I see your papers please?" anti-immigrant law, solid majorities of Arizona citizens are telling a variety of polling organisations that they approve of the legislation.

A Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 70 percent of likely voters in Arizona approve of the legislation, while just 23 percent oppose it. Other statewide and national polls are uncovering similar results, both in and out of Arizona.

Opponents of the measure, including major national Hispanic groups, say it will lead to racial profiling, and 53 percent of voters in the state are concerned that efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants will end up violating the civil rights of some U.S. citizens.

The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Phoenix, had been expected since mid-June, when Barack Obama administration officials first disclosed they would contest the Arizona law, adding to several other suits seeking to have courts strike it down.

The federal government added its weight to the core argument in those suits, which contend that the Arizona law usurps powers to control immigration reserved for federal authorities.

The main suit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other civil rights groups.

"In our constitutional system, the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters. This authority derives from the United States Constitution and numerous acts of Congress," reads the introduction to the 25-page complaint.

The lawsuit names as defendants the state of Arizona and Gov. Janice Brewer, in her official capacity. Various lawsuits have been filed to stop the new law, known as SB- 1070, from taking effect on Jul. 29.

Brewer has repeatedly defended the law as a necessary response to the federal government's failure to control illegal immigration from Mexico, and she continued to draw support from allies nationwide, including in Washington, as the lawsuit was filed.

With the State Department joining as a plaintiff, the lawsuit also cites the president's authority over foreign affairs. "Immigration law, policy, and enforcement priorities are affected by and have impacts on U.S. foreign policy, and are themselves the subject of diplomatic arrangements," it says.

In response to the lawsuit, a group of 20 Republicans from the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder protesting that the Arizona law "is harmonious" with federal immigration law.

"Not only does this lawsuit reveal the Obama administration's contempt for immigration laws and the people of Arizona, it reveals contempt for the majority of the American people who support Arizona's efforts to reduce human smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal immigration," reads the letter.

The lawsuit does not seek to invalidate the entire Arizona immigration law; it targets sections one through six of the law, leaving alone sections about employment and the impounding of vehicles.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement, "The President described it as misguided but it's worse than that. Arizona's law violates the Constitution, represents an unchecked government intervention that violates the constitutional rights of every American, undermines law enforcement's ability to fight crime, and discriminates against U.S. citizens based on skin color or accent."

The DOJ announcement comes after more than 30 jurisdictions across the nation enacted resolutions condemning Arizona's law, joined a national boycott of Arizona, or instituted travel bans. Similar resolutions are pending in at least 30 other jurisdictions nationwide.

Leading Republicans have also voiced their opposition to Arizona's draconian law. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he thinks the law is "unconstitutional" and "doesn't represent the best way forward" when it comes to addressing illegal immigration.

Republican Congressman Connie Mack wrote on an op-ed titled "Why conservatives should oppose Arizona's immigration law".

Police chiefs across the country have also criticised the Arizona law, saying it will burden local law enforcement, undermine community policing, and harm public safety.

"Police officers cannot take on immigration enforcement without taking substantial time away from priorities that are more central to a local law enforcement agency, such as investigating and preventing violent crimes and property crimes," noted George Gascon, police chief of San Francisco, California.

The former police chief of Arizona's third largest city, Mesa, Gascon also said advocates of the law have been using incorrect data to make their case. He said that in most parts of the state, crime has been decreasing, not increasing.

He added that it is increasing in jurisdictions such as Maricopa County (which covers Phoenix), where the local sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has for years carried out a particularly aggressive style of law enforcement.

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