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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Justice Dept. sues, seeks injunction on Ariz. immigration law

By Jerry Markon and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 6, 2010; 3:49 PM

The Justice Department filed suit Tuesday against Arizona, charging that the state's new immigration law is unconstitutional and requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the legislation from taking effect.

The lawsuit says the law illegally intrudes on federal prerogatives, invoking as its main argument the legal doctrine of "preemption," which is based on the Constitution's supremacy clause and says that federal law trumps state statutes. The Justice Department argues that enforcing immigration laws is a federal responsibility.

But the filing also asserts that the Arizona law would harm people's civil rights, leading to police harassment of U.S. citizens and foreigners. President Obama has warned that the law could violate citizens' civil rights, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has expressed concern that it could drive a wedge between police and immigrant communities.

"Arizona impermissibly seeks to regulate immigration by creating an Arizona-specific immigration policy that is expressly designed to rival or supplant that of the federal government," the Justice Department says in its legal brief. "As such, Arizona's immigration policy exceeds a state's role with respect to aliens, interferes with the federal government's balanced administration of the immigration laws, and critically undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives."

It adds that the law "does not simply seek to provide legitimate support to the federal government's immigration policy, but instead creates an unprecedented independent immigration scheme that exceeds constitutional boundaries."

The Justice Department argues that the law would burden federal agencies, diverting resources from the pursuit of people implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, gang activity and other crimes.

"The law's mandates on Arizona law enforcement will also result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens, who cannot readily prove their lawful status," a news release said.

To support its case, Justice included declarations from Arizona law enforcement officials, including the police chiefs of Phoenix and Tucson, saying that the law would hamper their ability to effectively police their communities. The officials said crime victims or witnesses would be less likely to cooperate with law enforcement and that officers would have to be reassigned from critical areas to implement the legislation.

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