Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told U.S. lawmakers her agency has “deep concerns,” about a new immigration law in Arizona and said the U.S. should pursue a comprehensive overhaul of its immigration policies.
Attorney General Eric Holder, at a news conference in Washington, said he also has concerns and said the Justice Department is considering going to court to challenge the Arizona statute.
The new Arizona law “will detract from and siphon resources that we need to focus on those in the country illegally who are committing serious crimes, in addition to violating our nation’s immigration laws,” Napolitano told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation last week that would make it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and require local police to determine the immigration status of anyone an officer suspects of being in the country without proper documentation.
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, said the Justice Department was reviewing the law, which has yet to take effect, and “will look at whether the law meets constitutional safeguards or not.”
She said the law may create an “undue” barrier between crime victims and law enforcement officers.
Napolitano, a Democrat, gave up the governorship in early 2009 to take the homeland security post under President Barack Obama. Brewer, a Republican, was Arizona’s secretary of state and succeeded Napolitano.
The new immigration law sparked protests in Arizona, where Census Bureau figures show about a quarter of the population is of Hispanic descent. The state also shares a border with Mexico and has an estimated 460,000 residents living there illegally, the seventh highest total in the country, according to the Homeland Security Department.
Obama on April 23 called for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws, saying a failure to do so will lead to “misguided” efforts such as legislation passed in Arizona.
Napolitano said “comprehensive immigration reform should be in our sights” as the U.S. continues efforts to secure the southwest border.