Holder: U.S. may take further legal action against Ariz. immigration law

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 11, 2010; 1:09 PM

Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday that if the federal government fails to stop Arizona's controversial immigration law from taking effect, it may launch a second legal challenge to combat any racial profiling that takes place.

The Obama administration is suing Arizona over the state law, set to take effect July 29, which would make it a state crime for a person to be in the country illegally. It requires local law enforcement during all "lawful stops" to question a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person may be an illegal immigrant.

In its July 6 court filing, the Justice Department argued that the Arizona law is unconstitutional because the power to set immigration policy and enforce it resides with the federal government and not the states.

Civil rights groups say the law could lead to harrassment of Latinos, given Arizona's position as a border state with a large Hispanic population. Although the government's lawsuit cites potential "detention and harassment" of U.S. citizens and immigrants who do not carry identification documents, it declines to make a legal argument that the law would lead to racial profiling.

But on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, Holder said if the federal government's initial challenge fails and the Arizona law takes effect, the Justice Department may have grounds for a later, second challenge.

The Justice Department might "look at the impact the law has had and whether or not-- see whether or not there has been that racial profiling impact," Holder said. "And if that was the case we would have the tools and we would bring suit on that basis."

It is rare for the federal government to sue one of the states. The unusual move - coupled with the hot button topic of the country's 12 million illegal immigrants - has inspired intense debate.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who signed the legislation in April, has called the federal suit "outrageous" and vowed to fight it. She said Arizona was forced to act because the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws.

Arizona's two Republican senators, John McCain and John Kyl, in a joint statement questioned whether "the Obama administration is really committed to securing the border when it sues a state that is simply trying to protect its people by enforcing immigration law."

On the other side, at least five lawsuits besides the federal complaint have been filed in federal court by civil rights groups and others challenging the law.

The debate over the immigration law has largely fallen along partisan lines, but Holder said Sunday the Obama administration's actions were not motivated by politics. "Not true at all," he said.

"What we're saying is that they cannot pass laws that are inconsistent with the federal laws, or do things that contravene federal policy when it comes to the enforcement of our immigration laws," Holder said. "And the Arizona statute, if you look at the guts of it, really puts in place a whole variety of things that are inconsistent with what we have decided to do as a federal government."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company