Coming Soon: AG vs. AZ?

Appearing on the Sunday news program, NBC’s Meet the Press, Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government may sue to challenge a new Arizona law that requires state and local police to question people about their immigration status whenever they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person may be unlawfully present in the United States. (See 09.May.2010, Eric Holder, Roundtable – Meet the Press, NBC News.)

David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, asked the Attorney General, “Arizona: What is specifically wrong with the anti-immigration law that has been passed there, and are you close to filing a legal challenge to it?” Mr. Holder replied that, “Our immigration system is broken in many ways,” and it “requires a national solution,” noting his concern about “trying to do it state by state.” The A.G. told NBC’s David Gregory that he understands “the frustration of people in Arizona, but the concern I have about the law that they have passed is that I think it has the possibility of leading to racial profiling and putting a wedge between law enforcement and a community that would, in fact, be profiled. People in that community are less likely then to cooperate with people in law enforcement, less likely to share information, less likely to be witnesses in a case that law enforcement is trying to solve.”

Asked how soon the feds might challenge the Arizona law in court, the A.G. demurred, saying only that, “We are considering all of our options.” Mr. Holder went on to say that federal authorities were considering, for instance, whether they should file a suit on federal preemption grounds – saying essentially that the law is invalid because it unlawfully invades the domain of federal law – or that the law as enacted may violate various federal civil rights statutes. In other words, the likelihood of such a suit did not seem in doubt; only the legal theories – the legal basis of the suit – seemed still to be under discussion.

Mr. Holder clearly took his lead from President Obama, who spoke out on the Arizona law at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House, telling the crowd, “…after so many years in which Washington has failed to meet its responsibilities, Americans are right to be frustrated, including folks along the border states. But the answer isn’t to undermine fundamental principles that define us as a nation. We can’t start singling out people because of who they look like, or how they talk, or how they dress. We can’t turn law-abiding American citizens – and law-abiding immigrants – into subjects of suspicion and abuse. We can’t divide the American people that way. That’s not the answer. That’s not who we are as the United States of America. And that’s why I’ve instructed my administration to clearly monitor the new law in Arizona, to examine the civil rights and other implications that it may have. That’s why we have to close the door on this kind of misconceived action by meeting our obligations here in Washington.”

It is not a question of whether the administration will challenge the Arizona law in court, but of how soon and on what grounds. Beyond that, one can’t help but wonder how such a lawsuit might affect the prospects for passing CIR this year. Would it provide political cover for Democrats to abandon CIR, giving them a chit to cash in with their Latino supporters, come November? Would it further inflame right-wing sentiment against CIR, making it impossible for moderate GOP members to support immigration reform, and harder for marginal Democrats to support CIR and maintain their seats? Would it not matter at all, since the battle lines have already been drawn? Only time will tell.

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