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Arizona immigration lawsuit: Obama sails into a political storm

Conservatives say the lawsuit against Arizona's immigration law is a ploy for Democrats to anchor Latino support. Liberals say the lawsuit is critical to stop a 'Jose Crow' era against Hispanics.

By Staff writer / July 10, 2010

Judy Schulz cheers as her husband Richard Schulz, left, both of Glendale, Ariz., joined hundreds supporting Arizona's new law on illegal immigration in Phoenix last month. The Obama administration is suing to block Arizona's law.

Ross D. Franklin/AP/File



By approving Attorney General Eric Holder's lawsuit against Arizona and its tough new illegal immigration law, President Obama has set course into a political hurricane that some political analysts say could ultimately undermine comprehensive immigration reform, at least in the short-term.

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"I think they actually believe that, in a righteous, lawyerly way, the federal government had to step forward and assert federal authority here," Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a pro-business group that opposes the law, tells Dan Nowicki of the Arizona Republic newspaper. "But I also think it's a pretty naked play for Latino voters. To me, it was a risky and troubling move."

Mr. Holder on Tuesday filed suit saying the Arizona law preempts federal authority over immigration, although the law itself – which takes effect July 29 – repeatedly cites federal immigration law as its basis.

IN PICTURES: The US/Mexico border

Although not included as a basis for the federal lawsuit, the main thrust of opposition to the law is that it allows police to ask more questions about people's immigration status based on "reasonable suspicion" that someone is in the country illegally.

"[D]espite the forces of the status quo, despite the polarization and the frequent pettiness of our politics, we are confronting the great challenges of our times," Obama said in a speech at American University on July 1. "And while this work isn’t easy, and the changes we seek won’t always happen overnight, what we’ve made clear is that this administration will not just kick the can down the road. Immigration reform is no exception."

Partisan divide

But the lawsuit now threatens to drive a hard partisan divide into the electorate over immigration.

Already, key Republicans such as Arizona’s two Republican US senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, who have supported reform in the past, have peeled off, putting Obama's recent push for comprehensive federal reform – including a partial amnesty for illegal immigrants – into question.

"The political implications of the lawsuit are difficult to predict with precision at this juncture," writes the Gallup polling organization. "Republican leaders will hope that reaction against the lawsuit generates more support for GOP candidates running on an anti-administration platform, while Democrats may hope that the lawsuit solidifies support among Hispanic voters in key congressional districts and states with close Senate and gubernatorial races."