PHOENIX (CN) – The United States sued Arizona on Tuesday, contesting its new immigration law, slated to take effect July 29. The Justice Department says the law tries to “second guess” federal immigration policies, and unconstitutionally usurps the federal government’s power to regulate immigration.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West, who signed the complaint, says the law “pursues only one goal — ‘attrition’ — and ignores the many other objectives that Congress has established for the federal immigration system.”
While “states may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens,” it may not enforce their own immigration policy or laws that interfere with the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, West wrote.
“Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration, and the federal government has a responsibility to comprehensively address those concerns,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. However, “Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws (are) a national responsibility. Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.”
While enforcing laws against illegal immigration is “a highly important interest,” it is not the only goal of federal immigration laws, the complaint states. West says federal immigration laws take into account “uniquely national interests” such as national security, humanitarian needs, and the U.S. foreign policy relationship with Mexico and other countries.
The Justice Department claims that the Arizona law will cause “detention and harassment” of legal visitors, citizens and immigrants who do not carry identification.
It also alleges that the law ignores humanitarian issues, “such as the protections available under federal law for an alien who has a well-founded fear of persecution or who has been the victim of a natural disaster.” During the application process for asylum, or special visas for victims or trafficking or violent crimes, aliens “may not have evidence of registration even though the federal government is aware of the alien’s presence, has decided against removing the alien, and certainly has no interest in prosecuting the alien for a crime.”
Refugees apply for refugee status outside the United States; asylees, though enjoying nearly identical protections, apply after they have entered the country. While awaiting determination of an asylum claim, asylum-seekers thus have legal status, though they may have entered the country illegally.
Arizona’s new immigration law requires verification of a person’s legal status during a “lawful stop” when an Arizona police officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the person is illegally present. But the Justice Department claims that “reasonable suspicion” will often be directed at lawfully present U.S. citizens, visitors and legal immigrants. If a person’s status is not quickly verified, legal aliens and U.S. citizens may be arrested and detained, West says.
Twenty House Republicans sent a letter to Holder, criticizing the Department of Justice’s decision to challenge the law, claiming that Arizona “has taken a reasonable, constitutional approach to dealing with a problem that has been ignored by the Obama administration.”
At least five other lawsuits have been filed challenging the law.
The law requires that police ask people about their immigration status if they suspect that a person is in the United States illegally. It also prohibits day laborers from “blocking traffic” on the streets and makes being in Arizona illegally a misdemeanor.