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Feds plan lawsuit against Ariz. immigration law

The Obama administration is thrusting itself into the fierce national debate over how the United States enforces policies.
/ Source: The New York Times

The Obama administration has decided to file suit to block a new Arizona law aimed at deporting illegal immigrants, thrusting itself into the fierce national debate over how the United States enforces immigration policies.

The move is a rare instance of the federal government forcefully intervening in a state’s affairs, and it carries significant political risks. With immigration continuing to be a hot-button issue in political campaigns across the country, the Arizona law, which gives local police greater power to check the legal status of people they stop, has become a rallying point for the Tea Party and other conservative groups.

The decision to intervene, though widely anticipated, was confirmed by an unexpected source: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who answered a question about it from an Ecuadorian TV journalist in an interview on June 8 that went all but unnoticed until this week.

Reiterating the publicly stated objections of President Obama and senior officials to the Arizona law, Mrs. Clinton said of the president, “The Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act.”

A spokesman for the Justice Department said the matter was still under review, but other senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a decision had indeed been made and that only the details of the suit were still being worked out.

These officials said several government agencies were being consulted over the best approach to blocking the law, which, barring any successful legal challenges, is scheduled to take effect July 29. At least five lawsuits have already been filed in Federal court by other plaintiffs, and civil rights groups have asked a Federal judge to issue an injunction to forestall the law from taking effect while the cases are heard.

A State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said Mrs. Clinton was responding to deep unhappiness over the law that has been expressed in Mexico and other Latin American countries. At home, polls show that a majority of Americans support the law, or at least the concept of states more rigorously enforcing immigration laws. But Latino groups and elected officials have denounced it as an affront to Hispanics. Several large demonstrations, for and against the law, have been held in Phoenix and other cities.

Some kind of legal action by the Justice Department against the law seemed likely, given Mr. Obama’s repeated statements against it, as well as concerns Attorney General Eric Holder has voiced in interviews and news conferences.

In late May, Justice Department lawyers traveled to Phoenix to speak with lawyers from the offices of the state attorney general, Terry Goddard, and of Gov. Jan Brewer about possible litigation. Mr. Goddard, a Democrat, and Ms. Brewer, a Republican, are both running for governor, and both have said that a Federal lawsuit would be unwarranted.

Mrs. Clinton’s disclosure quickly became fodder for political campaigns in Arizona, with Republicans seizing on the notion of a domestic policy decision being disclosed on foreign soil. Ms. Brewer chastised the administration for using an Ecuadorean television interview to inform the public about a momentous decision.

“This is no way to treat the people of Arizona,” the governor said in a statement. “To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the Secretary of State is just outrageous. If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation.”

This story, " ," originally appeared in The New York Times.