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Department of Justice Sues to Block Arizona Immigration Law

Updated 4:10 p.m. ET | The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday to block the enforcement of Arizona’s new immigration law, which gives police power to detain and question people they suspect of being in the country illegally.

In its brief filed in U.S. District Court, the Department of Justice argues that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the federal government’s authority to set immigration policy.

“The Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country,” the brief says.

Read a copy of the brief here.

Arizona’s Republican-controlled state Legislature passed Senate Bill 1070 and it was signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who said the bill was the best choice for the state because it would help protect citizens against border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration.

President Obama and immigrant rights groups have strongly opposed the law, and the president vowed to fight against its implementation.

Public polling shows that the tough-on-immigration measures in the Arizona law are very popular among Americans.

Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement acknowledging that Arizonans were frustrated with illegal immigration but calling for S.B. 1070 to be stopped because it would interfere with the federal government’s ability to set immigration policy.

“Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility. Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves,” Holder said.

Reaction from the Arizona law enforcement community was mixed. Republican Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, called the lawsuit “disappointing but not surprising.” He told The Rundown in a phone interview, “Arizona needs help to secure the border. We need more armed soldiers here. But the president is sending lawyers to Arizona to fight us rather than give us the support we need. He’s made an already difficult job that much more difficult, so thank you, Mr. President.” He predicted that the Arizona law will be upheld in the courts, adding, “We’re moving forward, until a judge puts some kind of stop or injunction on this at a high level… We are prepared to start enforcing the law at the end of this month.”

But in a written statement, Tucson police Chief Roberto Villaseñor cautioned, “The impact of illegal immigration on Arizona’s well-being cannot be denied. But to require local police to act as immigration agents when a lack of local resources already makes enforcing criminal laws and ordinances a challenging proposition is not realistic. Our community will suffer as a result, with a decrease in quality of life, and an increase in local mistrust of police.”

The immigration issue has political implications for the 2010 midterm elections as well. Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican up for re-election this year, is facing a primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. Hayworth has called immigration reform that helps illegal immigrants become citizens “amnesty.” On Tuesday, The Hill reported that McCain said many people in American illegally need to be deported.

McCain, who cosponsored comprehensive immigration reform during with the late Senator Edward Kennedy in 2007, has recorded an ad with Babeu promoting the construction of a fence along the Mexican border and opposing President Obama’s call for Congress to enact immigration reform legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

McCain said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that the southern border needs to be secured first before immigration reform can go forward.

“I invite the president to come to the border, and he can see for himself the absolute necessity of getting our border secure before more violence spills over onto our side of the border, as this existential struggle takes place between the Mexican government and the drug cartels and the human smugglers, who are now working hand in glove,” McCain told ABC’s Jake Tapper.

In an address on July 1 at American University in Washington, D.C., President Obama called for Democrats and Republicans to support changing the U.S. immigration system.

“The fact is, without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem. Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality. The only way to reduce the risk that this effort will again falter because of politics is if members of both parties are willing to take responsibility for solving this problem once and for all,” President Obama said.

With additional reporting by Beth Summers.

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