The federal government has filed its lawsuit asking a federal judge to strike down most of Arizona's new immigration law, declaring that federal law preempts the action by state lawmakers.
“In our constitutional system, the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters. This authority derives from the United States Constitution and numerous acts of Congress,” reads the introduction to the 25-page complaint (PDF).
Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice filed the complaint today in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The lawsuit names as defendants the state of Arizona and Gov. Janice Brewer (R), in her official capacity.
Brewer has repeatedly defended the law as a necessary response to the federal government’s failure to control illegal immigration from Mexico, and she continued to draw support from allies nationwide, including in Washington, as the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit makes sweeping claims about the federal government’s power to develop immigration policy. It cites the federal government’s power under the Constitution to establish a “uniform Rule of Naturalization” — translating, it says, to the regulation of aliens within U.S. boundaries and to the terms and conditions for entry and continued presence.
With the State Department joining as a plaintiff, the lawsuit also cites the president’s authority over foreign affairs. “Immigration law, policy, and enforcement priorities are affected by and have impacts on U.S. foreign policy, and are themselves the subject of diplomatic arrangements,” it says.
Together with the complaint, the department is filing a 58-page motion (PDF) for a preliminary injunction. The law is scheduled to go into effect July 29.
In a news release, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. focused on two concerns: the impact the law could have on immigrants’ willingness to cooperate with local police in criminal investigations, and the police resources that could be diverted from other investigations.
“Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility,” Holder said. “Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.”
In response to the lawsuit, a group of 20 Republicans from the U.S. House of Representatives sent Holder a letter protesting that the Arizona law “is harmonious” with federal immigration law.
“Not only does this lawsuit reveal the Obama Administration’s contempt for immigration laws and the people of Arizona, it reveals contempt for the majority of the American people who support Arizona’s efforts to reduce human smuggling, drug trafficking and illegal immigration,” reads the letter (PDF).
The DOJ lawsuit does not seek to invalidate the entire Arizona immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. It targets sections 1 through 6 of the law (PDF), leaving alone sections about employment and the impounding of vehicles. By contrast, the complaint (PDF) filed by in May by the ACLU and others asks to have the law struck down in its entirety.
Still, those civil rights groups and civil libertarians welcomed the Justice Department's action. Munger, Tolles & Olson is representing the coalition pro bono, and the coalition includes the ACLU, the NAACP, and the National Immigration Law Center.
“States planning to follow in Arizona’s misguided footsteps should take note: the United States cannot and should not allow immigrants and communities of color to be targets of hateful racial profiling legislation that puts their civil liberties on the line,” NILC General Counsel Linton Joaquin said in a statement.
To defend the state, Brewer has hired John Bouma, chairman of Snell & Wilmer in Phoeniz, because Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard III (D), has removed himself.
Five DOJ lawyers have their names on the complaint: Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who heads the Civil Division; U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke; Arthur Goldberg, an assistant director in the Federal Programs Branch; and trial attorneys Varu Chilakamarri and Joshua Wilkenfeld.
Updated at 4:23 p.m.