Aspen Ideas: Holder says Arizona immigration law is unconstitutional
July 9, 2010
ASPEN – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended a Department of Justice lawsuit against Arizona for the state’s controversial new immigration policy, saying the law is unconstitutional. He spoke before a full crowd at the Benedict Music Tent on Thursday in an Aspen Ideas Festival event.
The Justice Department is facing sharp criticism from Republicans and some Democrats over the suit, filed two days ago. Critics say it punishes the state for attempting to adjust for shortfalls in federal immigration oversight.
Arizona’s controversial statute requires state law enforcement to determine the immigration status of those stopped for another offense based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they might be illegal immigrants.
Twenty Arizona lawmakers criticized the federal government’s lawsuit in a letter sent to Holder the day the suit was filed. The letter notes that people who oppose the law have said it promotes racial profiling, but claimed that four sections in the statute’s language prohibit racial profiling.
But Holder said the lawsuit has nothing to do with any racial profiling implications in the new law; instead, the court action focuses on constitutional jurisdiction of immigration policy enforcement. He said the law effectively skirts the federal government’s constitutional purview over foreign affairs.
“The solution the Arizona Legislature came up with was inconsistent with the United States Constitution,” Holder said.
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CBS’s Bob Schieffer interviewed the attorney general in the music tent as part of a taping for Sunday’s edition of “Face the Nation.”
“States and local governments can certainly help the federal government,” but cannot go beyond the stipulations set forth in the Constitution, Holder said.
After sympathizing with the state’s unhappiness with current U.S. immigration policy and saying he understood why the Arizona Legislature would take such drastic measures, he said the issue requires “comprehensive,” nationwide reform.
He also said the issue is bipartisan, noting that Republicans and Democrats alike are among the opposition to Arizona’s law.
“There is not a Republican monolith here,” Holder said.
The letter says the federal government has failed to enforce immigration law, and that Arizona acted accordingly.
“Attorney General 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 letter reads.
Holder agreed with the allegations, saying the immigration issue has been tied up in red tape for too long. But he maintained that the lawsuit was filed because the law is unconstitutional
Holder also supported the Obama administration in its handling of a number of other heated debates, including the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and the president’s unfulfilled promises of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.