The Obama administration could file yet another lawsuit against Arizona if it decides racial profiling is taking place under that state's new immigration law, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said.
Mr. Holder's Justice Department sued Tuesday to block the law, arguing that it infringed on the federal government's right to determine immigration policy. But the lawsuit made almost no mention of racial profiling - a key issue in President Obama's attacks against the law in the weeks before the lawsuit was filed.
The attorney general, speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week in an interview aired on CBS on Sunday, said the pre-emption argument was the "strongest initial argument" against the law. If the law goes into effect despite the lawsuit, he said, federal officials will watch for profiling.
"If that was the case, we would have the tools and we would bring suit on that basis," he said.
Mr. Holder came under fire in May after he acknowledged to a Senate committee that he had not read the Arizona law, despite having publicly criticized it and arguing that it would lead to racial profiling.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, at a meeting of the nation's governors in Boston, told the Associated Press that the administration can't seem to make up its mind about its criticism of the law.
"Why would they have to hesitate, after all the comments they made, and all the outrage that they made against the bill in regards to racial profiling, that it didn't show up?" she said.
Speaking on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Mr. Obama's lawsuit was breaking new ground in "a misuse" of the supremacy clause of the Constitution.
"Never before have we challenged something because it might lead to something. There's nowhere in the Constitution that says a state is limited to what it absolutely won't do and can be stopped for what it might do," he said.
He said Arizona's law amounts to "self-help consistent with existing federal programs that have been passed by Republican and Democratic presidents," and therefore does not conflict with the Constitution.
Immigration has been a flash-point issue for years, and Arizona's law has only fanned the flames.
The law, which is slated to take effect July 29 unless a judge blocks it, would require police to check the legal status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally whom they encounter while enforcing other laws. It says race may not be used as a factor for determining who should be questioned, but opponents, including Mr. Obama, say they fear it will lead to racial profiling nonetheless.
A half-dozen lawsuits already have been filed against the law and the administration could have joined one of them in a friend-of-the-court brief. Instead, the Justice Department filed its own lawsuit, showing a strong statement of Mr. Obama's interest in Arizona's law.
Arizona officials argue that their law doesn't do more than enforce what is already on the books under U.S. law, but Mr. Holder said the new rules don't account for the nuances of federal policy, such as international relations and national security concerns.
"States and local governments can certainly help the federal government enforce immigration laws. 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," he said.
Still, Mrs. Brewer said last week that the federal government is being hypocritical in singling out Arizona for enacting a policy when there are dozens of so-called "sanctuary cities" that refuse to report illegal immigrants - which also potentially conflicts with federal law.
The Obama administration contends that the border is more secure now than at any other time in recent memory, and points as evidence to the decline in illegal immigrants caught crossing the border and the increase in U.S. Border Patrol agents begun under Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.
Now Mr. Obama is pushing Congress to act on a broad immigration bill that would legalize illegal immigrants and rewrite the legal immigration system, though it does not include a temporary-worker program that businesses and many Republicans say is needed to gain their support.
Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said that has been jettisoned at the wishes of labor unions.
"A temporary-worker program would have to be a part of any comprehensive immigration reform. And there isn't support for that in the Congress right now," said Mr. Kyl, who was a key part of the 2007 effort to pass a bill.
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