Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez on Monday defended a Justice Department’s lawsuit that seeks to preempt the enforcement of an Arizona law that critics say could lead to discrimination against Hispanics.
“Under our system of government, there is one quarterback and only one quarterback when it comes to issues of immigration, and that is the federal government,” Perez told an audience gathered for a American Constitution Society event in Washington D.C.
States getting involved in immigration could complicate the federal government’s operations in a number of areas, Perez said.
“You cannot have a system of 50 quarterbacks in the immigration system because immigration includes issues of law enforcement, it involves decisions with implications in foreign policy, it involves incidents with humanitarian implications, and you can’t have 50 states making immigration law and have a coherent system,” Perez said.
The law at issue allows authorities to question an individual if law enforcement officials have a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. It also criminalizes the “willful failure” to carry immigration documents. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit last week 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.
Justice Department lawyers traveled to Arizona to listen to what various group thought about the law before deciding to file the suit, Perez said.
“We didn’t simply sit here inside the beltway and figure out what was best for Arizona or what was constitutional under that circumstance, we went out and listened,” Perez said. “And it’s very noteworthy to me to see that officers who are on the front lines, police chiefs who are on the front lines, talk about how if you want to get smart on crime, you should focus on the most serious and violent criminals and you shouldn’t be focusing your first attention on the day laborers, and that’s precisely what this bill among other things does.”
In an interview with CBS that aired Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department “wanted to go out with what we thought of our strongest initial argument and to focus on what we thought is the most serious problem with the law as it now exists.” He suggested that a second lawsuit which focused on racial profiling grounds could be possible if the first suit were to fail.
On Monday, Perez encouraged people to read the pleadings in the case.
“What you will find is not only are there declarations from federal officials in that case, but you’ll also find there are declarations from the police chief or Phoenix, the police chief of Tuscan, the police chief of Flagstaff, and the sheriff of… one of the counties that borders Mexico,” he said.