A top Justice Department lawyer mapped out the DOJ’s reasons for filing a lawsuit against Arizona’s recently enacted immigration law during a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution Thursday.
Juan Osuna, Associate Deputy Attorney General for Immigration Policy, also laid out some of the provisions mostly likely to be included in a comprehensive immigration overhaul that the Obama administration hopes to pursue this year.
“The Arizona law is a manifestation of a federal failure,” Osuna said. “A failure by the federal government and Congress to enact very needed reform, on a comprehensive level, that is required for the national interest.”
He said the federal government welcomes local efforts to enforce immigration laws so long as they comport with federal priorities and defer to federal enforcement. But Arizona went too far, he said.
“The point of the Justice Department’s challenge to Arizona is not that states don’t have a role in civil immigration,” Osuna said. “The difference with this Arizona law is that it puts Arizona in the driver’s seat, rather than the federal government.”
The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Arizona and its governor, Republican Jan Brewer, seeking to invalidate the state’s immigration law on the grounds that it is preempted by federal immigration laws. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction that would prevent the law from being enforced while the litigation is pending. The law is scheduled to take effect July 29. A federal judge in Arizona will hear arguments on the injunction in the next few weeks.
Immigration was always on the Obama administration’s to-do list, but ranked behind other priorities like health care, Osuna said. Arizona’s law brought the issue back to the forefront.
“The only solution to this is a comprehensive national approach — and it is not going to be easy,” Osuna said. “If you thought that the health care town halls were ugly, wait until Congress starts considering a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”
Tighter enforcement — on the border and internally — an enhanced employer verification program, a pathway to citizenship, and a broadly restructured immigration system would likely be included in any legislation, Osuna said.
“Each one of these is significant and contentious,” he said. “[Each is] enough for a stand alone bill by itself — wrapped up together makes it a significant burden to move forward … [but] any version of all of these things will be included in comprehensive immigration reform.”
In particular, Osuna highlighted the need for improved workplace verification mechanism, noting a proposal by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for a “hardened social security card” that individuals would be required to present to employers.
“Full control of illegal immigration is going to require control of the work place,” Osuna said. “Doing something about the magnet of jobs is really the key in deterring illegal immigration.”
Osuna said he originally expected a bill from Schumer and Graham, who are collaborating on immigration legislation, to be introduced this summer. But heath care stalled that effort, and any action now would most likely come after the November elections, he said.
He also emphasized that any immigration measure would need bipartisan support.
“It’s going to require some significant Republican support — not just token Republican support but significant Republican support,” he added.