- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Obama administration is still weighing its options on Arizona’s new immigration law but the ACLU and a host of immigrant rights groups went ahead Monday with the broadest challenge yet, a class-action lawsuit that could become the main vehicle for the brewing legal battle.

The law continues to roil the immigration debate and, on Sunday, even crossed over into popular culture when a contestant on the Miss USA pageant said she supported Arizona’s decision, saying states should be allowed to experiment.

Polls suggest a majority of Americans back the law, and lawmakers in a number of states have proposed following Arizona’s lead - something the groups that filed the class-action suit Monday said they’re trying to head off.

“This law turns ‘show me your papers’ into the Arizona state motto, and racial profiling into the Arizona state plan,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigrants’ rights project, which is leading the legal push.

The law requires police to ask for proof of legal residence from those they reasonably suspect to be illegal immigrants. The law specifically prohibits using race as a reason for suspicion, though opponents said they doubt police can meet the law’s requirements without racial profiling.

The ACLU’s suit lists a half-dozen constitutional grounds for the challenge, including whether the federal government has sole authority on immigration matters, whether the law violates the First, Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment, and whether it infringes on some people’s right to travel through Arizona.

Ten individual plaintiffs have joined with the groups in suing.

They range from two Jane Doe plaintiffs who say they lack convincing documents and could be psychologically hurt by a police stop, to Vicki Gaubeca, a naturalized citizen who lives in New Mexico, regularly travels to Arizona, and worries her state driver’s license doesn’t meet the stricter Arizona requirements.

Another plaintiff, Arizona resident Jim Shee, who is of Spanish and Chinese descent, said he has been stopped twice over the past month by local police who demanded his “papers.” He said he doesn’t want to carry his passport with him to prove his citizenship.

The Arizona law, though, says a valid driver’s license from the state would be accepted as proof.

Kris Kobach, a law professor who helped write Arizona’s legislation, said the suit was “a kitchen sink kind of complaint” that relies on piling up charges and hoping a court agrees with some of them.

Backers of the law say that after an initial period in which many people erroneously jumped to conclusions about its effects, the tide is turning in favor of the legislation, particularly after the governor signed a clarifying law further clamping down on potential racial profiling.

“I think it’s backfiring on the administration and on the open-borders crowd who thought that they could use this law as a rallying point for the upcoming elections,” Mr. Kobach said.

Supporters of the law now famously include Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, Miss Oklahoma and first runner-up for Miss USA.

During Sunday night’s pageant, Oscar Nunez, an actor on “The Office,” asked Miss Woolard whether she thought the Arizona law was appropriate for a state to enact.

“I’m a huge believer in states’ rights,” Miss Woolard said, saying it’s “perfectly fine” for Arizona to tackle the subject. “I am against illegal immigration but I am also against racial profiling.”

Mr. Nunez was booed by some in the crowd for asking the question, while Miss Woolard’s answer seemed to draw more applause than booes.

Monday’s lawsuit joins suits already filed by a Tucson, Ariz., police officer, and a national Hispanic clergy group.

Still to come is a decision by administration officials who Mr. Obama asked to examine the law.

Last week Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., told a congressional panel he hopes to have an announcement “soon” about steps the federal government might take to fight the law, which both he and Mr. Obama have criticized.

Mr. Holder acknowledged to the panel he hadn’t read the law he was criticizing, and he gave conflicting accounts on whether he had talked to the team that was reviewing it.

Asked Monday whether Mr. Obama had read the law, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he believed Mr. Obama had asked for information from his lawyers.

Mr. Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Mr. Holder’s admission will resonate.

“It’s bad enough to just send him out to condemn a state law, period,” said Mr. Kobach, who served in the Bush Justice Department. “It’s even more outrageous when he just goes out and just starts shooting his mouth off without reading the law. It’s like this Justice Department is winging it.”

Mr. Kobach has helped defend other state and local immigration laws and ordinances against similar challenges and said the best argument critics have going for them is that federal law preempts state action. But Mr. Kobach said without a conflict between the wording of the state and federal statutes that’s a tough argument to sustain.

He pointed to the suit’s charge that the law uses a vague term, “immigration status,” when authorizing police to check whether someone is in the country legally. Mr. Kobach said the term comes straight from federal immigration law that already requires the federal government to provide information to local law enforcement.

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