The Justice Department filed suit Tuesday against Arizona, charging that the state’s new immigration law is unconstitutional and requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the legislation from taking effect.
The lawsuit says the law illegally intrudes on federal prerogatives, invoking as its 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.
But the filing also asserts that the Arizona law would harm people’s civil rights, leading to police harassment of U.S. citizens and foreigners. 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.
It adds that the law “does not simply seek to provide legitimate support to the federal government’s immigration policy, but instead creates an unprecedented independent immigration scheme that exceeds constitutional boundaries.”
The Justice Department argues that the law would burden federal agencies, diverting resources from the pursuit of people implicated in terrorism, drug smuggling, gang activity and other crimes.
The federal lawsuit will dramatically escalate the legal and political battle over the Arizona law, which gives police the power to question anyone if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant. In addition to Obama and Holder, the measure has drawn words of condemnation from civil rights groups and has prompted at least five other lawsuits. Arizona officials have defended the law and urged the Obama administration not to sue.
[The text of USA v. Arizona can be read or downloaded as a PDF file here.]