The Department of Justice announced Tuesday it is suing Arizona over its controversial immigration law, saying it conflicts with federal statutes.
In its complaint, the department said that it is seeking a preliminary injunction that would delay the July 29 implementation of the law pending the result of the case. The federal government is also seeking to quash the law on a permanent basis.
“Although states may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws,” the complaint reads. “The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.”
The lawsuit, filed in Arizona federal court, is likely to fan the flames of a political firestorm already surrounding the controversial law. The measure requires state law enforcement to check the identification of people they suspect are in the country illegally, if they are stopped for another reason.
President Barack Obama criticized the law after its passage in late April, calling it “misguided” and saying that it could lead to ethnic profiling. Observers have long speculated the administration would file suit to stop the law.
The measure also sparked a debate over the nation’s immigration policy in Congress. House Democrats have pressured congressional leaders and the White House to get behind a comprehensive immigration bill that includes a path to citizenship. They say the Arizona law is a wake-up call to reform national immigration laws.
But many Republicans have said that the law is justified, saying the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to secure the southern border in response to a rash of drug-cartel related violence there.
Arizona Sens. John McCain (R) and Jon Kyl (R) both criticized the lawsuit before it became official.
“Attorney General [Eric] Holder speaks of the ‘federal government’s responsibility’ to enforce immigration laws; but what are the people of Arizona left to do when the federal government fails in its responsibility?” the two Arizona Republicans asked in a joint statement.
But the Department of Justice said the suit was filed after close consultation with Arizona officials, law enforcement and civil rights groups. The suit was filed on behalf of the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security, which all oversee immigration policy.
“Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration, and the federal government has a responsibility to comprehensively address those concerns,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “But diverting federal resources away from dangerous aliens such as terrorism suspects and aliens with criminal records will impact the entire country’s safety.”