WASHINGTON – The U.S. Justice Department filed suit Tuesday against an Arizona state law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants, asking a federal judge to suspend enforcement of the measure until the courts rule on its constitutionality.
Government attorneys argued that the statute, which is due to take effect July 29, violates the U.S. Constitution by assuming authority on immigration matters that rightfully belongs to the federal government.
“The Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country,” the suit says.
Arizona’s law, SB1070, makes the presence of a person in the United States without legal permission a minor crime and requires police to ask for the papers of anyone they come in contact with who they suspect is undocumented. Called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, the law also restricts the hiring or transportation of day laborers, and allows for lawsuits against government agencies for NOT enforcing immigration laws.
“It will cause the detention and harassment of authorized visitors, immigrants, and citizens who do not have or carry identification documents specified by the statute,” the Justice Department says of SB1070.
It will also oblige the federal government to dedicate more resources to processing people arrested by the Arizona police on suspicion of being undocumented.
That will be a distraction from the war on terrorism, drugs and gangs, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.
The filing of the suit did not come as a surprise, since Holder had already said he was considering taking that measure.
Five other suits against the new law had already been filed by individuals and organizations defending immigrant rights, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund as well as other civil rights groups.
President Barack Obama has criticized the law as “misdirected” and has said it can create discrimination against immigrants.
Pro-civil rights group say the law will give power to police agents to arrest foreigners simply because of their appearance or their accent and will mean that immigrants will cease collaborating with police as witnesses to crimes or by reporting them.
The law has also sparked the ire of Latin American countries, Mexico in particular, which has added a friend of the court brief to one of the lawsuits.
Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, who signed the bill on April 23, has ask the courts to throw out the suits presented up to now because they are based on suppositions about discrimination that has not occurred.
The lawsuit is expected to create a battle in the Supreme Court over state versus federal power. While federal courts typically favor giving the federal government wider room to regulate matters regarding immigration, recently courts have also allowed state laws that rely on federal laws.
Legal experts have pointed out that the language of the Arizona law that is a weak point is that it makes unlawful presence in the country a state crime.
“I think the federal government is going to win and the Arizona law is going to be shown to be unconstitutional,” said Karl M. Manheim, professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Arizona law also caused the cancellation of the 28th annual conference between governors from U.S.-Mexico border states. All six Mexican border governors wrote to Arizona governor Jan Brewer, whose state was to host this year’s conference, saying that they were boycotting the conference.
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