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Justice Department tries to block Arizona’s immigration law, as states take note

Photo: AP Photo/Matt York

In about three weeks Arizona police plan to begin demanding proof of legal status from anyone they suspect is an undocumented immigrant. A new state law instructs any immigrant to “at all times carry with him … any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him.”

A training video sent to local and state law enforcement agencies in recent weeks warns officers that relying on race or ethnicity to profile a suspect could get them fired. “Arizona officers will never come under this level of scrutiny again,” Lyle Mann, executive director of the state agency that trains police, says in the video. “The entire country is watching to see how Arizona and in particular Arizona law enforcement responds.”

But Arizona police may not get a chance to prove themselves so soon. On Tuesday the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block Arizona’s S.B. 1070the so-called “show me your papers” law from going into effect.

In a complaint filed in a federal court in Phoenix, the government argues S.B. 1070 will “cause the detention and harassment of authorized visitors, immigrants and citizens who do not have or carry identification documents” and ignore “humanitarian concerns.”

A lawsuit accompanying the Justice Department’s request for an injunction argues Arizona’s law should be struck down because it violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution that places oversight of immigration enforcement firmly in the hands of the federal government.

“Although a state may adopt regulations that have an indirect or incidental effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with federal immigration law,” reads the Justice Department’s request for an injunction. “The State of Arizona has crossed this constitutional line.”

The challenge recognizes that “Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration” but argues that addressing the issue “through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.”

The success of this argument will be one of the most closely watched parts of the government’s case. At least 20 states are now considering bills similar to S.B. 1070. Five states have introduced copycat legislation that will be considered next year. Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah are most likely to pass the new laws.

Opponents of S.B. 1070 say the legal challenge is a clear warning to these states. “The administration’s lawsuit is a cannon shot across the bow of other states that may be tempted to follow Arizona’s misguided approach,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Indeed, the Justice Department’s challenge puts action behind Obama’s critique that Arizona’s law is “misguided,” but it may not be enough to stop it. For example, Arizona’s police will rely on active federal programs to carry out S.B. 1070. Eight of its state and local law enforcement agencies have signed agreements with the Department of Homeland Security that authorize them to “verify or ascertain an alien’s immigration status.”

The state’s officers will also use computer systems provided by DHS to access an immigration database. Critics of Arizona’s law, such as the AFL-CIO, say this means “the federal government will be complicit in the racial profiling that lies at the heart of the Arizona law.”

A Pew Research Center poll found nearly six in 10 Americans say they agree with Arizona’s approach to immigration. But an equally important bipartisan poll commissioned by the America’s Voice Education Fund found that even four out of five supporters of the new law also support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

Debate over what that reform should look like has stalled immigration reform measures in Congress. A proposal before the House has languished since January. Senator Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, has yet to introduce a bill.

In what was supposed to be a key speech on the topic last Thursday, President Obama said fixing the broken immigration system is a “moral imperative” but he offered no specifics as to what measures Congress might consider before the elections in November.

Even without congressional action, the administration’s challenge to Arizona’s new law will put immigration back on the front burner for lawmakers on the campaign trail. Democrats will be able to claim sensitivity towards immigrants and civil rights, while Republicans will attack Obama for blocking what Arizona says is its attempt to fill the federal gap on immigration enforcement.

Meanwhile, the push to expand Arizona’s approach to immigration could resume with new vigor when state legislatures next meet to consider new legislation. The anti-immigrant think tank, Federation for American Immigration Reform, which helped draft S.B. 1070, is taking notes on the Justice Department’s challenge. Its legislative arm, State Legislators for Legal Immigration, continues to advise Arizona representatives and has members in 35 state assemblies.



  • Shelly Eigen

    We, as drivers of autos, have to — at all times — have our drivers license & proof of insurance on the vehicle with us.
    Identification is also required to write/or cash a check…
    ” ” ” ” ” go to an emergency room…
    ” ” ” : : complete any number of other ‘day to day’ tasks.
    We don’t think about it, it is on our person, at all times — especially behind the wheel of the car.

    I don’t see any difference in requiring US citizens to have identification and requiring aliens to have their identification cards.

    This is another case of ‘don’t pick on me’ and treat me equally — even if I entered this country illegally. Legislators are being totally ridiculous.

    Having an adopted child who had to be naturalized for citizenship, I do not feel for these illegal aliens AT ALL. Come here? Do it the correct way — and learn the language dammit — IT IS A REQUIREMENT FOR CITIZENSHIP, — LEGAL REQUIREMENT !!!

    Don’t see how this is much different….

  • Kate

    Yes, Shelly, this all seems very fair if you’re living in Perfectville. If you’re white, no problem. If you’re middle class or better, no problem. Even if you were born here, if you’re dark-skinned and poor, you are being heavily scrutinized. This is not equal and fair.

  • John

    Seems that this is a law made by people whose recent ancestors were illigal immigrants themselves.. now they simply want to grab the land and claim it for their own. The law can legislate til it’s blue in the face it doesn’t change the moral landscape.

  • Juke

    The big fallacy in Shelly’s argument is that all her examples involve someone who needs to prove their identity as part of a process — in order to give a check or drive a car. But the Arizona Law asks that immigrants (or just non-whites) carry papers just to exist legally.

    And I’d like to know how she feels in a few years when Latino is the dominant culture and she is told to learn Spanish (dammit). It’s clear she’s more fearful of losing her dominant culture status than anything that has to do with fairness.

    I’m as against illegal immigration as anyone, but I’m also against pursuing it at the cost of liberty and respect for Americans of all colors and original nationalities.

  • Jamie

    Kudos Shelly. I appreciate the logic. I’m not sure why people think this is a race thing. This is about illegal immigration. Plain and simple. This is a big problem and it needs to be fixed. Arizona has the sovereign right to make and pass any law deemed necessary to deal with the problems she faces. Unfortunately, most people here on this forum who argue for the “rights” of illegal immigrants, are unwittingly jeopardizing their own. It is the law. Why are people upset over the legal tools given to enforce those laws?

    Every race and peaceable religion should be welcome but lets make sure they do it legally. There is due process for a reason people!!

  • barb

    John- WHAT????
    I’m really lost here. What is your logic?

  • Coni Thompson

    With the many unemployed residents of Indiana, I don’t like it that those from OHIO, who are also citizens, come over here and get jobs, reducing the number of potential jobs left for those who live in Indiana. In the same way, I don’t like it that people who are not citizens come here and get jobs whether students or visitors, or otherwise with visas, leaving less jobs for those who live here and are citizens. BUt, I have an issue with this whole argument I cannot justify, and that is how Indians lived here first, and all of us came over here afterwards, set up colonies, and killed off the natives when they tried to defend the land they had as their own before we arrived by ship so many years ago, and now we claim it is our country! Why didn’t we deport ourselves back to Europe, asia, gernmany, etc, instead of rounding up Indians and placing them on reservations, at time removing them over 1,000 miles from thier home and breaking up thier famlies??? Who is really right with all of this? Learn english-yes. Immegrate the proper way-yes. Carry proof at all times-yes even citiezens do for daily tasks as noted above, but if the government thinks the state has stepped too far to enforce, then the government should have eliminated the unemployment lines by hiring all the unemployed to enforce the immegration laws instead of filing a suit to stop SB 1070. Think of how many people could be earning even minimum wage or more, instead of a few lawyers who get rich on the fees???

  • roger

    this isn’t about race, the latino and there supporter have made it so. the law (sb1070) doesn’t state if they’re canada, chinese, or latino. you have to be doing something else that is illegal to be asked about your status.

  • Harbeer

    Roger, based on your inability to communicate in English, I’m going to have to ask you for your papers.

  • Hellno

    Either the Latino’s grab our land, or we keep them from grabing our land. They said it not me. We are going to make you speak spanish in ten years. They say all we want is fairness, but their idea of fairness is whatever advantage they can get, including amnesty; so they can get more. And it’s all justified because, we Americans are so rich, and they deserve it. It does not matter if the illegal aliens invading my country are all well behaved, hard working, clean, healthy, honest people, or even if they pay taxes. The World is full of good, hard working, honest people. That has nothing to do with the fact that they are invading my country without asking for permission to even be here. It is our choice of who, how, when, and how many, if any, may be here legally. It doesn’t matter if this drug war killings stop or any of that, the fact is they have not been invited, and this is not their country. Even if they apply for Citizenship, that does not mean we automatically give it to them. Their getting permission is based on our needs and wants, not theirs. And I am not interested in giving the message to the world, that if you can get in any way you can, and get as many chances as it takes and you make it, then we welcome you.

  • Isabella

    SB1070 is wrong. But we have to make it the law nationwide because we are afraid that Latinos will outnumber us, yes us, the great white people of the USA. Maybe we unconsciously fear that Mexico will reclaim its land. Maybe not thru some Manifest Destiny, but by numbers with an unintended destiny that pushed people out of their agricultural lands. Maybe our own greed, called Multinationals, brings us a new realization.

  • Isabella

    The “law” is the establishment’s way to secure the status quo, and profitability at the expense of the poor or people without representation. It also provides the means of justification for those who benefit from such laws, or in this case, the bigots who enjoy their status quo. Do we need more of this in our history? The Discovery Doctrine, Scalp Act, Slavery laws, Jim Crow laws, Vietnam, Chinese Exclusion Act, IRAC, IRAN…

  • Suntanman

    Local law enforcement in Florida are required by the Department of Homeland Security to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement whenever a non-citizen is arrested. If ICE determines that the individual is an illegal alien, ICE picks them up and an immigration judge enters and order of deportation. The federal government cannot apparently make up its mind.

  • iamnotasheeple

    11th amendment:

    “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”

  • Amy

    I agree with Arizona and hope all states adopt this law. My family entered America the right way and went through the right legal process to become a citizen. People who enter into America illegally, steal jobs from hard working American citizens, get free healthcare, welfare, education, and assisted living, should be deported and America should bill the country they came from. Bye bye recession.

  • Anonymous

    they should work on their immigration laws to avoid these kinds of issues.

    new york immigration lawyer