Although Arizona's new immigration law raised concerns that it might result in racial profiling, Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday that the Justice Department lawsuit
seeking to overturn it focused tightly on the federal government's prerogative to set immigration policy because that provided the strongest legal basis for the case.
Holder said on CBS' Face the Nation
that if, Arizona's statute does go into effect, his department would keep its options open to see if racial profiling is occurring and to act on that basis if it was.
The Arizona measure would require police and other law enforcement officials, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status upon "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the state illegally. Justice has asked for an immediate injunction to prevent the law from going into effect as scheduled on July 29.
A U.S. District Judge in Phoenix is expected to rule on the injunction request within the next two weeks.
Holder said the suit was based primarily on the constitutional argument that enforcement of immigration laws was a federal responsibility because "we wanted to go out with what we thought (was) our strongest initial argument and to focus on what we thought is the most serious problem with the law as it now exists."
"It doesn't mean that if the (Arizona) law, for whatever reason, happened to go into effect that six months from now, a year from now, we might not look at the impact the law has had in whether or not to see to whether or not there has been that racial profiling impact," Holder said. "And if that was the case, we would have the tools and we would bring suit on that basis."
The Justice action has drawn criticism from Republicans. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl said on Fox News Sunday
: "For the federal government to challenge this law on the basis that it has preempted the area and therefore the state of Arizona needs to butt out I think is wrong."
Kyl said there has been improvement in border enforcement by the federal government "but it's not enough, because you still have about a half of a million illegal immigrants crossing the border every year...It would be one thing if the federal government had controlled the border already, but it hasn't."
"What Arizona is trying to do is to lend its law enforcement officials to the effort so that they can then, in some cases, apprehend illegal immigrants, turn them over to the federal government," Kyl said. "And then it's up to the federal government to decide whether they want to accept them, whether they want to detain them, whether they want to remove them to their country of origin or what to do with them."
National polls -- such as ones by Gallup
and the Pew Research Center
-- have found majorities in support of the Arizona law. A Gallup poll
conducted July 7 said 50 percent of Americans oppose the Justice Department lawsuit, with 33 percent supporting it and 17 percent undecided.