Justice: Sanctuary cities safe from law

Arizona’s policy ‘actually interferes’

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A week after suing Arizona and arguing that the state’s immigration law creates a patchwork of rules, the Obama administration said it will not go after so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement, on the grounds that they are not as bad as a state that “actively interferes.”

”There is a big difference between a state or locality saying they are not going to use their resources to enforce a federal law, as so-called sanctuary cities have done, and a state passing its own immigration policy that actively interferes with federal law,” Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., told The Washington Times. “That’s what Arizona did in this case.”

But the author of the 1996 federal law that requires states and localities to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration laws thinks the administration is misreading the statute and that sanctuary cities are in violation of federal law. Drawing a distinction between those localities and Arizona, he said, is “flimsy justification” for suing the state.

“For the Justice Department to suggest that they won’t take action against those who passively violate the law  who fail to comply with the law  is absurd,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and chief author of the 1996 immigration law. “Will they ignore individuals who fail to pay taxes? Will they ignore banking laws that require disclosure of transactions over $10,000? Of course not.”

Officials in Arizona say they’ve been unfairly singled out by President Obama and Mr. Holder, who last week sued to overturn Arizona’s new law, arguing that it could lead to a patchwork of state immigration rules.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says sanctuary cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws will not face lawsuits like Arizona, which has passed a law on illegal immigrants.

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ASSOCIATED PRESS A spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. says ... more >

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other critics said that sanctuary cities  — localities that refuse to check on someone’s legal status or won’t alert immigration authorities when they encounter illegal immigrants  — are just as guilty of creating a patchwork of laws, and violate the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.

Mr. Smith said the administration doesn’t appear to understand his law, which requires localities to share information on illegal immigrants with federal authorities.

“The White House is just plain wrong on the premise since the Arizona law mirrors federal law — it does not ‘interfere’ with it,” he said.

The Arizona law, which goes into effect July 29 unless a court blocks it, requires authorities to inquire about the legal status of any detained person about whom they have reasonable suspicion might be in the country illegally. The law as amended specifically prohibits using race or ethnicity as a reason for suspicion.

Messages left with Mrs. Brewer’s office Wednesday were not returned. But in a statement last week, she said Arizona was being targeted.

“President Obama’s administration has chosen to sue Arizona for helping to enforce federal immigration law and not sue local governments that have adopted a patchwork of ‘sanctuary’ policies that directly violate federal law. These patchwork local ‘sanctuary’ policies instruct the police not to cooperate with federal immigration officials,” she said.

Mr. Obama took an active role in targeting Arizona, including ordering the Justice Department to get involved. But on sanctuary cities, the White House has deflected questions, first telling a reporter it would get an answer about the president’s thinking but eventually shifting questions over to the Justice Department.

In his original directions to Justice to review the Arizona law, Mr. Obama asked for lawyers to look into potential conflicts with federal immigration law and potential civil rights violations, such as racial profiling.

When it was filed July 6, though, the Justice Department lawsuit attacked the law only as an infringement on federal prerogatives. It did not make any accusations that the law violates civil rights, though Mr. Holder threatened a second lawsuit on that issue during on Sunday’s political talk shows.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez defended the Arizona lawsuit on Monday, telling the American Constitution Society that the federal government can’t tolerate different policies.

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About the Author
Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland, White House reporter for The Washington Times, is a D.C.-area native. She graduated from the University of Virginia, where she studied American government and spent nearly all her waking hours working as managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, UVa.’s student newspaper.

Her interest in political reporting was piqued by an internship at Roll Call the summer before her ...

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