The Obama administration is escalating its crackdown on tough immigration laws, with lawyers reviewing four new state statutes to determine whether the federal government will take the extraordinary step of challenging the measures in court.
Justice Department lawyers have sued Arizona and Alabama, where a federal judge on Wednesday allowed key parts of that state’s immigration law to take effect but blocked other provisions. Federal lawyers are talking to Utah officials about a third possible lawsuit and are considering legal challenges in Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina, according to court documents and government officials.
A look at how other states have responded to Arizona’s immigration law.
Alabama's strict new immigration law, which was largely upheld Wednesday by a federal judge, requires police to jail anyone who can't prove he or she is in the country legally. (Sept. 29)
The level of federal intervention is highly unusual, legal experts said, especially because civil rights groups already have sued most of those states. Typically, the government files briefs or seeks to intervene in other lawsuits filed against state statutes.
“I don’t recall any time in history that the Justice Department has so aggressively challenged state laws,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University Law School.
The legal skirmishing comes as immigration emerges as a defining issue in the presidential campaign and Hispanic voters play an increasingly influential role. Most Republican candidates are calling for a hard line on the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants — and criticizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry for some of his positions on the issue.
President Obama is staking out a position on the other side. He told a roundtable of Latino reporters Wednesday that Arizona’s immigration law created “a great danger that naturalized citizens, individuals with Latino surnames, potentially could be vulnerable to questioning. The laws could be potentially abused in ways that were not fair to Latino citizens.”
The Arizona law passed last year — requiring police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws — triggered a fierce national debate. A Justice Department lawsuit led federal courts to block that measure’s most contested provisions, but similar laws have been approved in recent months in Alabama, Utah, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina. At least 17 other states have considered such measures this year.
Although Wednesday’s ruling in Alabama was something of a setback, the Justice Department and civil rights groups have been on a winning streak. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have obtained rulings temporarily blocking all or key parts of immigration laws in Utah, Georgia and Indiana, with Republican- and Democrat-appointed judges blasting the measures as devoid of due-process protections or for targeting illegal immigrants.
Now, the administration is under pressure from some quarters to intervene in those states, as well as in South Carolina, where a new immigration law is set to take effect Jan. 1. Civil rights groups have been lobbying the executive branch, according to people familiar with the effort, and the ACLU is circulating an online petition calling for federal lawsuits.