The United States v. Arizona

Today, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona in federal court. The lawsuit, prompted by passage of SB 1070 in the Arizona legislature, will argue that federal law trumps the state statute and enforcing immigration law is a federal responsibility. The Department has requested a preliminary injunction to delay enactment of the law, arguing that the law’s operation will cause “irreparable harm.”

“The federal government is taking an important step to reassert its authority over immigration policy in the United States, said Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council. “While a legal challenge by the Department of Justice won’t resolve the public’s frustration with our broken immigration system, it will seek to define and protect the federal government’s constitutional authority to manage immigration.”

Although states have always played a role in federal immigration enforcement, over the last 10 years more and more states have chosen to impose their local policies, priorities, and politics on our national immigration system. America can only have one immigration system, and the federal government must make clear where states’ authority begins and where it ends. The federal government must assert its authority to establish a uniform immigration policy that it can be held accountable for. In the current environment it is unclear who is responsible for setting immigration enforcement priorities and who is responsible for their success or failure.

Also, while we applaud the administration’s decision to challenge the constitutionality of the Arizona law, we urge it to also look inward and correct other policies and programs that confuse the relationship between federal and state authority to enforce immigration laws. For example, the Department of Justice should rescind an Office of Legal Counsel memo issued in 2002 which opened the door for greater state action by reaching the, politically motivated, decision that states had inherent authority to enforce immigration laws. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security should rescind the 287(g) agreement in Maricopa County, Arizona where it has become clear that the agreement is being abused.

At the end of the day, a lawsuit alone will not end the vacuum created by the lack of workable immigration laws. While the Department of Justice takes up the legal challenge, the Obama Administration and Congress must put the immigration issue squarely back where it belongs – in the halls of congress and on the desk of the President of the United States.

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The following is a statement by Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, non-profit, pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington .

We fully support the Department of Justice’s decision to put the brakes on Arizona ‘s discriminatory and unconstitutional immigration law. It is critical for the administration to send a clear signal asserting that state and local laws that attempt to regulate immigration, such as the Arizona SB1070 law, will not be tolerated.

Don’t just take our word for it. Leading police chiefs across the country have voiced their opposition to the Arizona law because it will burden local law enforcement, undermine community policing, and harm public safety. George Gascón, Police Chief of San Francisco, CA voiced his concern in a signed declaration, that SB1070 will redirect police from fighting crime,

“SB 1070 . . . creates a resource allocation problem. Police departments in Arizona, already spread thinly and underfunded, now have an added responsibility – to enforce federal immigration law” He added, [P]olice officers cannot take on immigration enforcement without taking substantial time away from priorities that are more central to a local law enforcement agency, such as investigating and preventing violent crimes andproperty crimes.

The resulting harm to public safety will not only impact immigrant communities, but all communities in the state of Arizona because it creates a vacuum in law enforcement.”

Leading Republicans have also voiced their opposition to Arizona ‘s draconian law. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham(SC) has stated that he thinks the law is “unconstitutional” and that “it doesn’t represent the best way forward” when it comes to addressing illegal immigration.

Republican Congressman Connie Mack (FL) wrote on an op-ed titled “Why conservatives should oppose Arizona’s immigration law”,
“The Arizona immigration law reminds us of how fear and distrust can lead to bad laws and even more government overreach into the private sector and our private lives…trampling on the rights of some Americans to protect the majority conflicts with the values our nation was founded upon.”

Arizona ‘s law is a clear example of the chaos created by the federal government’s failure to fix our broken immigration system and the need to prevent the spread of Arizona-type legislation to other states.. Our broken immigration system is a national problem that requires a federal solution. Allowing a state to craft and pursue its own immigration policies conflicts with the federal government’s exclusive authority to enact a uniform set of immigration laws and execute them in a just manner. We don’t need a muddled patchwork of conflicting immigration policies; we need a national standard and a workable system of immigration laws.

Public frustration over illegal immigration will only increase unless the federal government steps in and solves this complex problem once and for all. This frustration is not solved by states and localities attempting to pass and enforce their own immigration laws. In order to significantly reduce illegal immigration, restore the rule of law, and replace the chaos of the status quo with a functioning, practical system, we need comprehensive immigration reform – the only sensible and lasting solution.

By reminding the nation that the federal government has the sole authority to set immigration policy and enforce immigration laws, the Obama Administration can close the door on the surging numbers of localities attempting to take immigration policy into their own hands. Until Congress acts, the Obama Administration must accept full responsibility for carrying out the immigration laws of this nation in a manner that upholds America ‘s fundamental values of equality, fairness and dignity.

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The following is a statement by Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, which convenes the Fair Immigration Reform Movement:

“We welcome today’s announcement that the Obama Administration will sue to block Arizona ‘s misguided and hateful attempt to target Latinos and immigrants in its state as an unconstitutional infringement on Federal power. This reassertion of control will help place immigration policy back at the national level where it belongs. The state of Arizona ‘s radical attempt to usurp federal authority should not be allowed to stand.

“This action has enormous implications in the fight for civil rights for all Americans. States considering following Arizona ‘s lead in racially targeting some segments of the population are on notice: these efforts are un-American and unlawful; so says the chief law enforcement officer for the United States of America .

“This assertion of Federal authority should remind us that Arizona and other states have stepped into the vacuum of federal leadership on immigration reform because Americans are deeply frustrated with our broken immigration system. We earnestly hope this federal action is the first step in a long needed effort at bringing a comprehensive solution to a festering problem.”

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Statement by Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona:

“For 75 days we’ve been praying for this law to be struck down. Night and day, the people of Arizona have maintained a constant presence outside the Arizona Capitol holding vigil since Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070. Today, 13 vigil participants arrived in Washington to hold vigil in front of the White House for 24 hours to urge action on immigration reform and take the stories of the impacted communities to the President and Congress.

“Today marks an important step in preventing a grave civil rights injustice to the people of Arizona. We applaud the Obama Administration for standing up to this misguided law and reestablishing that immigration enforcement is a federal matter.

“This law was never the answer to any of Arizona’s problems. The answer to our immigration and border safety problems lies with the federal government. Instead of expending energy and tax payer dollars on destructive laws, we should be pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
“Already, this law has divided Arizona and sown mistrust in its minority communities who rightly fear this law will invite racial profiling. We at Promise Arizona will continue not only to pray this law is never enacted, but will continue to fight to awaken and engage the community and find and build new leaders to create an Arizona we can all be proud of.”

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SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina issued the following statement:

“DOJ has arrived in the nick of time to stop the ticking time bomb set by Arizona Republicans. There is no question that we need serious solutions to address our broken immigration system, but a 50-state patchwork of ineffective, conflicting and costly state laws won’t work.

“As frustration mounts over Congress’ failure to address our broken immigration system, we cannot by fooled by false prophets. Arizonans—just like all Americans—deserve real immigration solutions, not political maneuvers that drain limited state coffers, violate basic civil rights, but fail to solve the problem.

“America needs federal immigration reform that will uphold our nation’s values, strengthen our economy and move us forward together. But Republicans, including Arizona Senator John McCain, keep blocking workable reform. Pushing an extremist, anti-immigrant agenda may score Republicans some cheap political points in November, but it won’t do anything to address the drug smugglers on the border, restore the rule of law, or target the abusive employers who benefit from today’s failed system.
“Until we see a comprehensive fix to our immigration problems, enforcement-only bills like Arizona’s SB 1070 will continue to make the problems worse, not better. Instead of pushing costly legislation that has become a lightning rod for hate. The Republicans must decide NOW whether they want to deliver the real solutions that Arizonans and all Americans are clamoring for.”
Background for Reports:
SEIU Lawsuit against Arizona: On May 17, SEIU joined UFCW and other major civil rights groups to file a class action lawsuit that charges that SB1070 violates the First Amendment and interferes with federal law and is therefore unenforceable. Read more.

Projected Costs of Arizona’s SB1070: From across the country, police chiefs, state legislators, faith leaders, and business groups have stood up against SB1070 and its many copycats because they fear troubling and costly ramifications to the state. Read cost analysis by Immigration Policy Center.

What Polling of SB1070 Really Shows: Recent public opinion polling in the wake of Arizona passing SB1070 confirms what we have known for a long time: American voters are angry and increasingly fed up with Congress’ continued failure to fix our broken immigration system. But while voters want action, they have a strong preference for comprehensive, federal action. While 60 percent of Arizona voters express support for SB1070, a whopping 73 percent also support federal reform that includes both enforcement and a path to citizenship. Read SEIU poll conducted by Project New West.

SEIU Fights Back against a Flawed Solution to a Serious Problem: In response to SB1070, SEIU joined labor unions and major civil rights group to issue a boycott of major events in Arizona. SEIU has also led an active grassroots campaign of thousands of SEIU members who have responded with direct action outside baseball stadiums, statehouses and ICE offices across the country. To learn more, go

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Statement by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

We applaud the Obama administration and the Department of Justice for bringing legal action to stop Arizona from implementing SB1070, an anti-immigrant piece of legislation that would severely undermine workers’ rights and sanction racial profiling. The union movement, together with many civil rights and faith-based organizations, is relieved to see the President take action to ensure that Arizona does not become the model for how the United States treats immigrants and people of color.

While the lawsuit is an important first step towards protecting the fundamental civil rights of working people in Arizona, it does not go far enough. The Administration has an immediate and more efficient
alternative to achieve this end: The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security can—and should—revoke the authority that the Department has delegated to Arizona under the 287(g) program. Without that authority, Arizona will not be able to implement misguided laws such as SB1070.

Arizona SB1070 is a frustrated response to the lack of federal action on immigration reform. Immigration is a federal issue and requires federal leadership, and it is time for Congress to do its job and fix our immigration system in a way that is consistent with our national values.

The solution to our broken immigration system must protect all workers and provide a fair path toward citizenship for undocumented workers already living and working in the United States. It must address the unique circumstances faced by undocumented students who were brought to the United States by their parents long ago. It must include an independent commission to determine our society’s genuine need for more workers that does not afford employers a steady stream of exploitable labor. And it must include a mechanism to ensure that employers are held accountable when they break the law.

Ultimately, laws like SB1070 will never stop illegal immigration because they fail to address the problem’s root cause: U.S. employers’ unquenchable thirst for cheap, disposable workers and failed trade and economic policies that force workers to leave their home countries in search of work. Attempts to ignore this reality and solve the problem militarily with more guns, more soldiers and higher
fences are bound to fail.
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The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) commends the courageous action today against the Arizona immigration law by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in filing a lawsuit challenging this misguided law. The DOJ’s stance is a resounding “NO” to Arizona by reaffirming control over immigration policy at the federal level. “I applaud President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for their willingness to take the fight against Arizona’s unconstitutional ‘show me your papers’ law to the courts. By filing this lawsuit the President has declared, in a loud and clear voice, that in America we will not tolerate people being forced to live in fear based upon the color of their skin and the misguided belief that the darker their tone, the more likely they are illegal,” said David Leopold, president of AILA.

The DOJ lawsuit says the law illegally intrudes on federal prerogatives, invoking as the suit’s 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. “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.”

The filing also asserts that the Arizona law would harm people’s civil rights, leading to police harassment of U.S. citizens and foreigners. From the moment the bill was signed into law, 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. The Justice Department argues that the law would burden federal agencies, diverting resources from the pursuit of people implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, and other crimes.

“AILA stands ready and willing to work with the Administration and Congress not only to fight hateful legislation, such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070, but to work positively to fashion and implement a historic overhaul of our dysfunctional immigration system that will be good for Arizona and the entire nation,” added Leopold.

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The following statement can be attributed to Hector Figueroa, 32BJ Secretary Treasurer:

“News that the Justice Department may soon take legal action against Arizona´s unconstitutional, radical and costly new immigration law is encouraging for Americans seeking a solution to our immigration crisis,” said Hector Figueroa, Secretary Treasurer of 32BJ SEIU – one of the largest unions of immigrant workers in the United States.

“Rather than offer real solutions, many Republicans are still playing politics by trying to appease the Tea Party with mean-spirited, anti-immigrant measures that do nothing to fix our broken immigration system. We need a smart, balanced and comprehensive immigration policy that includes a path to citizenship for millions of otherwise law abiding immigrants and hope this action is a step in that direction.”

With over 120,000 members in eight states, 32BJ is one of the largest unions in the country representing immigrant workers.

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Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force and co-author of a comprehensive immigration reform framework, released the following statement:

“I applaud the Administration’s decision to challenge the constitutionality of the Arizona law and reassert the federal government’s authority over national immigration policy. While states certainly play an important role in the implementation of our country’s laws, in recent years, we have seen a dangerous trend toward local governments increasingly taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, leading to a patch work of irreconcilable approaches. And in the case of the Arizona law SB170, this law sets a dangerous precedent that puts even citizens and lawful residents at risk of racial profiling. America must have one uniform, comprehensive and fair immigration policy. This is why it is so important for our Administration to assert its constitutional authority over this matter and for Congress and the Administration to take action on comprehensive immigration reform.

Earlier this year Senator Menendez, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) presented the REPAIR proposal, a framework for comprehensive immigration reform.

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Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

ADL welcomes the Justice Department’s action to prevent the ill-advised Arizona law from taking effect later this month.

Immigration is a national issue, and a federal responsibility. Rather than allow states to adopt a patchwork of disparate immigration policies, we strongly support comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a unified and focused approach to strengthen border security in a workable and humane manner.

The Arizona law poorly serves both our security and our values as a nation of immigrants. Like the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police and many law enforcement organizations, we are concerned that the new law is likely to result in discrimination and more mistrust between the Latino community and the local law enforcement agencies entrusted with protecting them.

The League filed its own amicus brief last month challenging the law, arguing that enforcement of the “ill-conceived and misguided” Arizona law will irreparably damage law enforcement’s ability to protect Arizona residents.
ADL has taken a lead role in exposing the virulent anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric that has risen to the surface as part of the national debate over immigration and has documented the anti-immigrant discrimination and hate violence that this atmosphere fosters.
Resources are available on the League’s Web site at


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