July 7 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government sued to block the state of Arizona from enforcing a law aimed at cracking down on illegal migrants, arguing that under the Constitution immigration is a matter for federal policy only.
The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department yesterday in federal court in Phoenix, seeks an injunction against implementing the Arizona law that’s set to take effect on July 29.
“A state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws,” the U.S. wrote in the complaint.
The Arizona statute makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It requires local police officers who come in contact with someone for a law enforcement reason to check the individual’s immigration status if they suspect the person lacks proper documentation.
The lawsuit follows other challenges, including by the American Civil Liberties Union and an Arizona police officer who doesn’t want to enforce the statute. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier that the Obama administration planned to challenge the law.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said yesterday current U.S. policies have resulted in the state being “under attack” from Mexican drug and immigrant-smuggling cartels.
‘Reasonable and Constitutional’
“The truth is the Arizona law is both reasonable and constitutional,” Brewer said in a statement. “It mirrors substantially what has been federal law in the United States for many decades. Arizona’s law is designed to complement, not supplant, enforcement of federal immigration laws.”
The bill doesn’t allow racial profiling or discrimination, Brewer said when she signed it in April.
U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, a Democrat, today criticized the Obama administration for failing to fix what she called a broken immigration system. The lawsuit is a distraction from the immigration debate, she said in a statement.
“The White House and Congress need to start developing a better approach to border security and immigration reform, working with us instead of against us,” Kirkpatrick said.
President Barack Obama has said overhauling immigration law is one of his highest priorities. In 2007, Congress failed in an attempt to rewrite immigration legislation for the first time in 20 years.
Obama said in April that lawmakers may lack the “appetite” to try again. Democratic leaders are focusing on measures to improve border security before addressing the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.
The ACLU said in its lawsuit that the Arizona law interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The statute also infringes the free-speech rights of day laborers in the state, the group said.
Other suits challenging the law claim it will hinder law enforcement efforts, with people less likely to attend community meetings or come forward to report crimes out of concern their appearance or accent may cause police to question their citizenship.
“The idea of letting one state, much less 50, have their own schemes that come into a conflict with federal immigration law -- it is untenable,” said Anne Milgram, the former New Jersey attorney general who is now a senior fellow at New York University Law’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law. The center plans to file an amicus brief in support of the U.S.
The Justice Department claims the law will hinder pursuit of high-profile targets in Arizona, such as aliens implicated in drug smuggling and gang activity.
“Deterring, investigating and solving serious and violent crimes are the department’s top priorities, and it would be impossible for us to do our job without the collaboration and support of community members, including those who may be in the country unlawfully,” Jack Harris, the Phoenix police chief, said in a filing in support of the lawsuit.
Almost three-quarters of Americans support provisions requiring people to produce documents verifying they are in the U.S. legally, according to a May poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
“Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration, and the federal government has a responsibility to comprehensively address those concerns,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “But diverting federal resources away from dangerous aliens such as terrorism suspects and aliens with criminal records will impact the entire country’s safety.”
The U.S. said it filed the lawsuit after consulting with Arizona officials, law-enforcement officers and civil-rights advocates.
The case is United States of America v. State of Arizona, 2:10cv1413, U.S. District Court for Arizona (Phoenix).
To contact the reporters on this story: William McQuillen in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Emily Heller in Phoenix.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at email@example.com.