WASHINGTON — Is US Attorney General Eric Holder going to sue Arizona over its new immigration law? It sure seems as if the Obama administration is preparing the way for such an action.
On Wednesday, a group of police chiefs from around the nation paid a very public visit to Attorney General Holder and said that forcing local law enforcement to check whether a person is in the United States legally could raise a wall of mistrust between police and immigrant groups. The new Arizona immigration law would require police to carry out such checks.
If that happens, their jobs will become more difficult, said the chiefs.
“Laws like this will actually increase crime, not decrease crime,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
That is an argument against the Arizona law that Holder himself has already made.
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, Holder said he was considering whether to challenge the Arizona statute in court. He made two specific objections to the law: that it might be a usurpation of federal prerogatives, and that it could lead to racial profiling.
Checking someone’s immigration status due to the color of their skin or other racial cues may be a violation of US civil rights statutes, said Holder. It could also drive a wedge between police and groups they are supposed to protect, he said.
“People have to understand that racial profiling is not good law enforcement,” Holder said at the House Judiciary hearing on May 13.
Holder added that his department was working with the Department of Homeland Security to review the law.
The police chiefs who visited with Holder Wednesday came from Philadelphia, Houston, Minneapolis, San Jose, and Salt Lake City, among other places. They said that during their hour-long meeting with the attorney general the subject of his review of the Arizona law did not come up.
The Obama administration has tried to walk a fine line in regards to immigration.
White House officials have criticized the Arizona law and said that a comprehensive immigration reform bill will be a top priority for President Obama in the weeks ahead.
At the same time, they have acknowledged that many Americans, particularly in the Southwest, feel that the nation has lost control of its borders, and that control of illegal immigration should precede any general action on immigration.
On Wednesday White House officials announced that the president would order 1,200 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border to support Border Patrol efforts. Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said this was a step in the right direction but that the troop deployment needed to be much larger to have a real effect.