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AG Goddard urges Feds not to sue over immigration
PHOENIX — Attorney General Terry Goddard urged federal prosecutors Friday to back away from a possible lawsuit against Arizona over the state's new immigration law.
Goddard said he told attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice he believes the law, at least on its face, is constitutional. Goddard said he specifically believes nothing in the statute illegally infringes on the power of the federal government to control immigration policy.
But Goddard said even if the law is flawed — something he does not concede — there is no need for the Obama administration to take it on.
He pointed out there already are five lawsuits filed in federal court.
"Every possible argument is being briefed,'' he said. A judge is expected to rule on a request for an injunction before the law is scheduled to take effect July 29.
"I told them we need solutions from Washington, not more lawsuits,'' Goddard said.
Hannah August, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said Attorney General Eric Holder has been gathering information about the new law. That includes a meeting he had earlier this week with several police chiefs, including Roberto Villasenor, about the impact of the law "and their ability to keep communities safe.''
Friday's meetings with Goddard — and a separate one with the legal team hired by Gov. Jan Brewer — are an extension of that.
"We continue to have concerns that the law drives a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve,'' August said. She said her agency is examining the law to see "what options are available to the federal government.''
Goddard, the lone Democrat running for governor, said neither the meeting nor the hastily called Friday afternoon press conference was political.
In fact, he said, the closed-door meeting was sought by the Department of Justice.
"I believe they were sincerely looking for input as to what our thoughts and reactions would be to the possibility of a lawsuit,'' he said. Goddard said he told the attorneys they should focus their energies elsewhere.
Brewer, in a prepared statement, said her lawyers told federal attorneys pretty much the same thing as Goddard.
"The (Justice) Department attorneys were advised that I believe the federal government should use its legal resources to fight illegal immigration, not the state of Arizona,'' Brewer said. She, too promised to "vigorously'' defend the law "all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.''
The new law has several provisions aimed at illegal immigrants.
One spells out that police officers who have stopped, detained or arrested someone for some other reason must check their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion'' they are not in this country legally.
Another provision makes it a violation of state law to be an illegal immigrant. And there also are new statutes aimed at day laborers as well as those who knowingly transport, harbor or conceal illegal immigrants.
Goddard was openly critical of SB 1070 while it was being considered by the Legislature. He said it does nothing to solve the problem of illegal immigration.
And Goddard even called the measure "troubling,'' saying it might have "civil-rights implications'' because of to provisions that could be seen as an excuse to stop and question Hispanics.
On Friday, Goddard promised to fight "vigorously'' against any legal challenge to the statute, whether by individuals or the Department of Justice.
"While SB 1070 is far from perfect, it is a response to a very serious problem,'' he said. And Goddard echoed comments previously made by both Brewer and Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who both argued Arizona was forced to act.
"I told the lawyers it would be just plain wrong for the federal government to sue to stop Arizona from dealing with something that the federal government itself has ignored for so many years,'' he said.
Goddard said his belief the law would withstand legal scrutiny is based on a "facial'' challenge — that the statute, as written, is unconstitutional because the state has no right to enforce immigration laws.
But he acknowledged there is another legal avenue for foes: an attack on the law "as applied.'' That would be based on arguments that police, in enforcing the statute, are engaging in racial profiling or some other illegal act.
"I urged them not to assume that, in implementing SB 1070, that Arizona law enforcement officers would act in any other than a fair and highly professional manner,'' Goddard said.
Goddard said he got no promises either way.
"They promised to take our thoughts under advisement,'' he said. "The ball is now in their court.''
But Goddard said his comments came with a threat of sorts. He said aside from defending the law, "if I believe there are grounds I would, in fact, claim back against the federal government if there is any way Arizona has a claim that they could wage.''
Goddard provided no specifics.
"We're researching right now,'' he said. "We believe there are some claims that can be made if such a lawsuit is filed.''
He also brushed aside questions of whether his decision to defend SB 1070 is political, what with the upcoming gubernatorial race and polls showing a majority of Arizonans support the law.
"I have a strong record throughout my time as attorney general of standing up and defending in court propositions that have been passed by the Legislature,'' he said.
That, he said, includes laws he doesn't like.
"Sometimes I have differed on the underlying philosophy and I have said so publicly,'' Goddard continued. "But we take second place to no one in terms of our professionalism and our taking on our legally required responsibilities to stand up and defend, in court, what has been passed and duly signed.''